Underpants bomber cooperating – no waterboarding required!

A popular right-wing meme is that you can only get useful information out of alleged terrorists by torturing them. Oh, what's that, Scott? Waterboarding isn't torture? All right, then — by using “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Problem is, it's not true. Accused underpants bomber [insert guy whose name I can't spell here] has been supplying valuable intelligence.  Consequently, the following item from American Prospect is worth considering.

The recent news about the interrogation of Abdulmutallab destroys several pro-torture, anti-due process myths that I'll list here:

Mirandizing a suspect prevents intelligence from being collected. Clearly not the case, as Abdulmutallab has continued talking to investigators after being mirandized. Interrogating someone without mirandizing them means that you can't use that information in court, though it's still usable as intelligence.

The FBI stopped interrogating Abdulmutallab so they could mirandize him. No. As the LA Times reported, the FBI decided to read Abdulmutallab his rights after he stopped talking. 

Putting an “enemy combatant” like Abdulmutallab in the criminal justice system is unprecedented.
 False, as the Bush administration did it with nearly 150 terrorists convictedin civilian courts over eight years. Most recently, Bush-era CIA Chief Michael Hayden wrote an op-ed criticizing the decision to put Abdulmutallab in the criminal justice system, even though it was standard practice under Bush. A recent example is Bryant Vinas, an al-Qaeda recruitcaptured in Pakistan in 2008, who as part of a plea deal has reportedly provided a “goldmine” of intelligence. Hayden was CIA chief at the the time and said nothing, because the practice was uncontroversial.

We would have gotten all this information more quickly if we had just tortured him. Unlikely, and there would have been substantial downsides. Part of interrogating a suspect is verifying that information is true, and that takes time whether someone is being tortured or not. But if we had tortured Abdulmutallab, it's unlikely that his family would have played such a key role in his interrogation. Also, the information he gave wouldn't have been as reliable. Treating him humanely shows the world that it can trust the United States and encourages Muslims who may have important information to come forward.

The only way to get terrorists to talk is by torturing them, because of their religion. This myth is a staple of torture stalwarts on the right. Cliff May and former Bushspeechwriter Marc Thiessen have argued that suspected terrorists are compelled by their religious beliefs not to talk unless they “reached the limit of their ability to endure the hardships the infidel is inflicting on them,” in May's words. Thiessen responded gleefully to a poll suggesting most Americans wanted Abdulmutallab to be waterboarded. Something tells me that despite the fact that Abdulmutallab is talking, Thiessen is probably disappointed he wasn't tortured first.

The FBI isn't good at interrogating suspected terrorists. The events of the past few days have again proved this to be false. As former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke toldABC, “The FBI is good at getting people to talk. … They have been much more successful than the previous attempts of torturing people and trying to convince them to give information that way. The FBI does it right.”

In a related story, claims that waterboarding caused Abu Zubaydah to spill his guts right away have turned out to be totally unsubstantiated. 

Interesting stuff.  Remember it the next time someone tries to argue that we have to torture (OK, Scott, OK – waterboard) to beat the terrorists.

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31 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Haha - jinx, Charley! :-)

  2. Sickening that Brown thinks so little of America

    as to advocate that we torture people.

  3. No pain, no gain?

    Torture is not about getting information.  Under torture you'll confess to being a Republican.  The story of Marcus McDilda's confession is a case in point.

    Torture is about getting people in line.  "Go on, protest about your stinkin' rights and see what happens."  The idea is to get you to toe the line.  The threat is to you.  You want to complain?  You want to see your loved ones suffer?  Ask Aafia Siddiqui about it.  

    Waterboarding is just the torture they talk about.  There's a lot worse going on and that is slowly being leaked.  I doubt waterboarding killed the couple dozen detainees that died in torture sessions.  

    What prevents the various organs of the Federal, State and Local policing authorities to break down your door and drag you into oblivion?  Jose Padilla? - An American citizen, held for years without charge and tortured.  My heart goes out to the youth, they haven't much of a chance.

    The dregs of humanity are running the train.  Scott Brown is the little man just trying to hop on board.

    Last train?  "All on board!"  


  4. I'm a sales person and I sell software for doing scientific predictions.

    One o the issues we deal with is developers often will "get the right answer for the wrong reason". It's difficult to catch since we rely on negative feedback to present errors in our coding or the basic science the software is based on.

    I am very glad the "underwear bomber" (what a stupid name) is talking and cooperating. However, I would point out that IMO this is an "aberrant" behavior for captured enemy combatants/terrorists. We arrested this person and gave them their rights including the rights to not talk. Maybe because this neophyte was scared, was alone, was inexperienced... whatever reason, we lucked out and I'm sure all parties are happy he is cooperating.

    However, to take this occurrence, a "single" data point and extrapolate that "all" future terrorists captured will follow the same sequence of events culminating in them "spilling the beans" is incongruous.

    • rofl

      It's difficult to catch since we rely on negative feedback to present errors in our coding or the basic science the software is based on.

      I'm guessing you have the same relationship with your development team as you do with the folks on here.  

      Be honest: you have no clue how software is developed or tested.

    • Well, it sure as hell doesn't prove the opposite, either.

      Property crime would be drastically reduced in this country by installing security cameras in every residence and public place, requiring everyone to have a GPS chip installed in their shoulder, establishing torture and capital punishment for every minor misdemeanor, and initiating a universal curfew. Would you support these proposals if they would "make you safer"? What if I could prove, with your software, that crime would be reduced and terrorism eliminated by these measures? Torture, like child molestation and rape, is immoral and evil under any circumstances, and as such ought to remain a crime. The good guys just don't do it- no matter what.

      • No I wouldn't support those measures.

        But, if we arrested a suspected murderer and I dropped my pants to "moon" the guy and suddenly the guy confessed to the crime... I wouldn't walk around saying questioning is not required, simply "moon" the suspects.

        You can't base any theory on 1 data point.

    • Another $quot;data point$quot; for ya

      From March 29, 2009 Washington Post

      When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

      The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

      In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.


      • This would be a data point that waterboarding does not produce results.

        It is not a data point that giving a terrorist a lawyer DOES produce results.

    • Somehow I knew...

      ...that JohnD wouldn't concede this point despite the evidence.

      • Any lawyer here would tell you that this diary is hardly $quot;evidence$quot; and proves nothing.

        • It's a well documented story...

          ...and all over the news today.

          • there you go with your facts, again

            Stop discriminating against JohnD!

          • Do you remember the undercover videos about ACORN?

            Is that evidence that ACORN is a criminal organization founded on the premise that Hookers and pimps need Federal money to create jobs? Is that "EVIDENCE" that all funding should be shut off for ACORN? OR... is it one single point of information that would have to be combined with other information to form a cohesive case?

            "... thinking of private school for your child but one day they come home with a 100% on a test. Conclusion, why waste money on private school, my child is obviously a genius!"

            Obama's gaffes on Jay Leno... conclusion, Obama hates Special Olympic children

            This is a single case where the guy (a young kid) is opening up to interrogators. Watch for his lawyer to be sued for incompetence after this is over.

            • It's evidence against absolutes

              People have been suggesting that we absolutely could not do this the right way, so all it takes is one case to negate that notion.  If one were to suggest there were NO problems with ACORN then the video would be evidence of that statement not being completely true, but not reason to penalize the organization as a whole.

    • Torture

      While you're correct that a single data point cannot be extrapolated to imply that all future terrorists captured will follow the same path as Abdulmutallab, it doesn't clear up the basic problem with the pro-torture position:

      We still do not have a solid, single data point to indicate that torture works to extract reliable information.

    • You would point out?

      "I would point out that IMO this is an "aberrant" behavior"

      On what basis?  With what backup?  Who's making claims without the data here?

      • Well, I admit to never writing a dissertation on the subject...

        which is why I put the IMO. I interpret the "IMO" caveat to mean... it is MY OPINION!

        That said, I did speak to 2 lawyers about questioning and they told me "every" lawyer is taught to instruct their clients to not answer any questions to the police/authorities which could in "any way" implicate them in any crime. The conclusion I got from this (and watching Lw & Order for 100 years) is these suspects will not willingly speak to our investigators. Therefore, when a pigeon starts squealing like this guy, I'll hang my "opinion" out there that this is a aberrant behavior by our terrorist.

        If I could ask the complimentary question, are you suggesting that when terrorists are arrested and have been given council and Constitutional rights that they will willingly give up information? Sounds rather odd.

        • So we should torture criminals to get confessions?

          Awesome!  Just like "24"  

          Maybe we could televise it.   I bet the Fox Torture Channel would have HUGE ratings!

        • Suggesting?>

          "...are you suggesting that when terrorists are arrested and have been given council and Constitutional rights that they will willingly give up information?"

          Nope.  Never said it.  Just commenting on the value of your assertion.

        • Facts > Opinions

          No no no, this is not your opinion. It is a fact, or it isn't. Opinions are for things like "this is the right thing to do" or "this is the wrong thing to do" or "I like pork chops".

          Whether or not this is an aberrant behaviour is not your opinion. You don't get to have an opinion on this matter any more than you get to have an opinion on whether the earth is flat.

          As for me, my "opinion" is that the FBI has many trained interrogators who solve crimes and question suspects for information that lead to crime-solving. They do it all the time.

          Oh, right, that, too, is not an opinion, it's a fact. My opinion is that maybe we should trust the FBI to know what they're doing and get information in ways that result in a) the information being true, and b) the information being usable in a court of law.

  5. Seems like we have multiple questions on this post...

    Is waterboarding torture?

    Does waterboarding get results?

    Will we get results without waterboarding?

    I think the gist of this diary was "we get results" without waterboarding. My reply back was that I don't think you can say that based on this one situation. If we had people from our intelligence agency here, would they say our best strategy when we catch a terrorist is to give them a lawyer and cross our fingers? I don't think so.

    I still say this case in an outlier and we got lucky. But I'm very happy we did.

  6. Efficacy is not the measure

    Torture is morally repugnant and ethically wrong. To debate whether or not torture works misses the point entirely. Either you believe in our founding principles that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights or you do not. Whether someone is an accused criminal or not a citizen should not matter to a country which claims to be a nation of laws. Accusations are not facts, innocent people are charged, even convicted at times. Our basic law, the Constitution, says that you have a right against self incrimination, that you have a right to representation, that you have a fight to trial and to question your accusers. Either you believe that those rights are important underpinnings of our democracy or you don't. I believe that all these protections are under assault. Jose Padilla, an American citizen, arrested in Chicago, was held and mistreated for years in denial of those rights. Could we have tortured him into a confession? sure. The Soviet KGB bragged that they could extract a confession from anyone in 72 hours and deliver them to court unmarked. Does that indicate that torture is effective? I guess that depends on your goal. I'll stand by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.    

  7. Umar Fizzlepants

    That is the most recent name those of us in the know are assigning to this guy. http://www.google.com/#hl=en&s...

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