Patterico's Pontifications


Sebastian Holsclaw Responds

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:01 pm

Sebastian Holsclaw has responded to my KSM hypothetical. I think his post is excellent — which is not to say that I agree with all of it. Mostly, it’s a relief to get a straight answer from a waterboarding opponent who has carefully read my post and all the qualifications in it, and understands that I am just getting off the ground with a philosophical/moral exploration of the issues.

If I have one quibble with Sebastian’s post, it’s that I think he slightly misreads my post as unqualified support for Bush policies on waterboarding. I actually think the issue is more complicated than that, as I expressed in this post, and my KSM hypothetical is mostly an attempt to highlight some of the complexities involved, for the benefit of the more self-righteous among those opposed to waterboarding.

I have spent days fighting with the leftists here to a) give a straight answer, b) stop badly misreading my post and ignoring the limitations of the hypo, and c) stop making assumptions about my viewpoint. But I can see I won’t have to fight with Sebastian on these points. Even if we disagree, he is willing to state my arguments fairly and respond to them reasonably. (I can’t say the same for all of his commenters.)

So maybe the best way to move this debate forward is to have the discussion with him, rather than trying to engage in the Socratic method with commenters who mostly obfuscate, misread me, and generally frustrate me.

Hopefully he’ll agree to continue the discussion.

26 Responses to “Sebastian Holsclaw Responds”

  1. Patterico,

    I’ve been grappling with the torture thing for a while. You strike me as a reasonable fellow, and I’m doing my level best to engage your arguments, at least mentally.

    Let me tell you where I’m coming from. I generally subscribe to some kind of utilitarianism, and therefore I agree that with all your hypotheticals. I don’t regard waterboarding–or any torture technique–as some kind of automatic damnation for whoever’s involved. If I could prevent another 9/11, or the destruction of my family, etc., by personally digging out OBL’s eyes with some chopsticks, I would do it.

    My point is that things like this never happen. My intuition, supported by various people I have read, is that coercive interrogation techniques such as waterboarding are not particularly effective in gaining reliable intelligence. I like this guy’s example:

    First, consider the American and European witch trials. During these trials a significant number of people confessed, under brutal torture, to being witches. If torture is an effective means of acquiring truthful information, then these trials provided reasonable evidence for the existence of witches, magic, the Devil and, presumably, God. However, it seems rather odd that such metaphysical matters could be settled by the application of the rack, the iron maiden and the thumb screw. As such, the effectiveness of torture is rather questionable.

    Sure, people might admit stuff that is actually true, but they’ll also give you bunk information just to make the pain stop. Another example:

    Meet, for example, retired Air Force Col. John Rothrock, who, as a young captain, headed a combat interrogation team in Vietnam. More than once he was faced with a ticking time-bomb scenario: a captured Vietcong guerrilla who knew of plans to kill Americans. What was done in such cases was “not nice,” he says. “But we did not physically abuse them.” Rothrock used psychology, the shock of capture and of the unexpected. Once, he let a prisoner see a wounded comrade die. Yet — as he remembers saying to the “desperate and honorable officers” who wanted him to move faster — “if I take a Bunsen burner to the guy’s genitals, he’s going to tell you just about anything,” which would be pointless. Rothrock, who is no squishy liberal, says that he doesn’t know “any professional intelligence officers of my generation who would think this is a good idea.”

    Or listen to Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq during Desert Storm, and who was sent by the Pentagon in 2003 — long before Abu Ghraib — to assess interrogations in Iraq. Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply “not a good way to get information.” In his experience, nine out of 10 people can be persuaded to talk with no “stress methods” at all, let alone cruel and unusual ones. Asked whether that would be true of religiously motivated fanatics, he says that the “batting average” might be lower: “perhaps six out of ten.” And if you beat up the remaining four? “They’ll just tell you anything to get you to stop.”

    With that, I consider the debate over. I admit moral arguments are less persuasive to me than pragmatic ones, but I don’t see a strong case for torture. I haven’t mentioned what torture does to our international standing or how it makes our troops vulnerable to torture. Thoughts?

    Russell (a32796)

  2. Russell,

    It’s like the whole second half of my post doesn’t even exist.

    If you want my thoughts, you could start there.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  3. I even did a transcript for people who don’t do videos.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  4. My God, that’s a rather awful collection of people that comment on that site. Personal threats, silly self-aggrandizement, and sheer douche-baggery all in one convenient spot. I wouldn’t advise hanging out in the comments section there much, Patterico.

    JVW (5be464)

  5. Russell – Coercive interrogation is only effective when the information given is fact checked, and there is a system of penalties for lying and rewards for telling the truth. Were it as simple as you make it out to be, why would anybody ever interrogate another, as all they will get are false confessions. The idea that waterboarding is just going to get the interrogator what they want to hear, and false confessions, is absurd. There is obviously some of that, but a good interrogator is not looking for a confession, he is looking for information, and is trained well on how to get it.

    JD (33beff)

  6. A dialogue with Sebastian sounds like a good idea, plus I like inter-blog discussions. They enlarge the pool of ideas. But it is a rough crowd.

    DRJ (9578af)

  7. It’s like the whole second half of my post doesn’t even exist.

    What post? This current post? Or this post? I’ve read them both a number of times.

    You mention at one point people who volunteer to be waterboarded for one reason or another. I don’t see what that has to do with anything.

    It seems to me that you are arguing that waterboarding is more complicated than anyone would like to admit because it’s possible that it works sometimes. I’m convinced that it never works, and the single example of KSM through Bill O’Reilly isn’t reliable enough for me. Maybe I’m misrepresenting you. If so, please enlighten me.

    Russell (a32796)

  8. A rough crowd? Well, one hoped I die a painful death in a fire, another said the wish could be justified, a third said I should lose my job, and a fourth gave the inevitable Nazi reference.

    Patterico (35e9c9)

  9. Serves me right, though. I know better than to comment at lefty blogs. I got sucked in because Sebastian’s post seemed reasonable. Doesn’t mean his commenters are . . .

    Patterico (ea3c1e)

  10. Russell,

    Sorry, I got my posts confused. Check out my most recent one. That’s the one I thought you were commenting on . . .

    Patterico (d6675c)

  11. Leftists are nuts, Patterico, when they’re not evil. What did you expect?

    Oh, you’re going to say they’re not evil? Two wished for you to be violently tortured, one for you to lose your means of supporting your family, and the other equated you with a Nazi because they don’t have enough understanding of good and evil to know the difference. That would be four.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  12. Aw, come on Patterico, there are assholes everywhere. I’ve seen some pretty terrible attacks here before, and I keep coming back. I feel like most of the people over at Obsidian Wings were being pretty reasonable.

    Russell (cf89ed)

  13. I feel like most of the people over at Obsidian Wings were being pretty reasonable.

    Plenty of them were. But enough weren’t to spoil it for those who were.

    I’ll continue the discussion with Sebastian through blog posts, hopefully.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  14. Christoph,

    The guy who said I should lose my job was the same guy who compared me to an SS officer. Apparently neither is a personal attack. Nor is it a personal attack to say of a wish that I die a painful death: “That wish could be well justified.”

    Neither of those folks got a reprimand.

    Russell, some people here can indeed be jerks. But if I see them doing things like that, they get whacked and if necessary banned.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  15. I think you can be reasonable Patterico, I honestly believe that you haven’t been exposed to the facts–they are really ugly. We have one of the foremost non-MSM reporters on the topic. You can browse her reporting on the Arar case, here. It is REALLY ugly. And this was just when we were sending people out to be tortured. Note especially that Arar was picked up because of false confessions tortured out of 2 other people and was tortured for MONTHS, not minutes.

    Sebastian Holsclaw (0b541d)

  16. “Russell, some people here can indeed be jerks. But if I see them doing things like that, they get whacked and if necessary banned.”

    We ban people, but we typically warn them first. And we don’t get to moderate the comments until late at night sometimes, which is a bummer in some of he more extreme cases. Also, some of the most abusive people we’ve never seen before.

    Sebastian Holsclaw (0b541d)

  17. I’ve heard of Arar. Is that your proof that the Bush Administration tortured people?

    Patterico (bad89b)

  18. Sebastian,

    I’m just surprised and disappointed by the lack of any warning for 1) someone who said that the wish for me to die in a fire “could well be justified” or 2) someone who said I should lose my job, and who compared me to an SS officer.

    I saw comments after those comments, but none that reprimanded those two.

    You can run your site any way you like, but if you’re claiming to oppose personal attacks, I think those qualify.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  19. “Arar was picked up because of false confessions tortured out of 2 other people and was tortured for MONTHS, not minutes”

    Yeah, by incompetent Syrian sadists.

    — from a Canadian who believes Arar was fully innocent and deserved his $10,000,000 CDN (real money, not the valueless stuff you yanks use) settlement

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  20. Sebastian, we didn’t render Arar, we deported him to the country of which he is a citizen, based on information we received from the Canadians.

    We did not torture Arar, which is not to say that there weren’t significant screw ups in his handling. But if you want to complain about his torture, the country whose name you need to keep at the forefront of your complaint is Syria.

    Pablo (99243e)

  21. Referencing Katherine’s post:

    Torture is bad enough. Detention without a hearing, without a chance to see the evidence against you, without a real opportunity to prove your innocence, is bad enough. When you combine the two, though, you get something exponentially worse: Blind alleys. Shattered lives. Allies betrayed. Enemies’ worst lies about you proved true. A policy that is as stupid as it is immoral.

    Yes, and where do you get those things? Syria. Used to be that way in Iraq, with an emphasis on used to.

    Pablo (99243e)

  22. Maher Arar was deported to Syria; because of a tip that the Syrian Mukharabat had about his brother; a member of the Moslem Brotherhood. So not unlike the texhniques applied to Abu Nidal’s
    family; they received Arar in order to put pressure on the brother. The ‘bridge to the Palestine Branch’ of the Mukharabat was brokered by Richard Armitage, Colin Powell’s lead aide and the real instigator of the Plame case. Armitage also was a major player; through the Baku Chamber of Commerce and board of director in the AIOC
    tied to the KGB Dynasty of the Aliev clan; in a predominantly Shia former Soviet Republic. But the neocons are the true evil.

    The Mukharabat’s lead instructors were Soviet KGB and Eichmann’s deputy; Alois Brunner,aka Goerg Fischer, who according to a footnote in the recent biography of Vichy functionary Darquier de Pellepoix, may or may not have died in 1992 in Damascus. who had not a little to do with the setting up of the Egyptian Mukharabat. The same
    Mukharabat which had a role in the radicalization
    of Qutb; Zawahiri, et al.

    narciso (c36902)

  23. “I’m just surprised and disappointed by the lack of any warning for 1) someone who said that the wish for me to die in a fire “could well be justified” or 2) someone who said I should lose my job, and who compared me to an SS officer.

    I saw comments after those comments, but none that reprimanded those two.”

    Two of the people who run the site (myself and hilzoy) reprimanded the fire-guy. It just didn’t happen until late at night, which is unfortunate.

    Sebastian Holsclaw (0b541d)

  24. Sebastian, how about the guy (Phil) who made a personal threat which I linked to in Comment 4 above? I didn’t see any sort of reprimand given to him. I know that maybe you see his threats as being empty and hyperbolic, but I think they would have led to a warning or outright expulsion from this site.

    JVW (5be464)

  25. I actually think that was clearly a joke and not a threat. The guy Phil seems reasonable enough. (Sure, he’s a little up on his high horse. He called me a “scumbag[]” at one point, but that’s pretty mild for blog comments.)

    Patterico (0058e0)

  26. Phil’s a decent enough sort, but prone to vacillation between angry attacks on other commenters and angry attacks on other commenters who are angrily attacking still other commenters.

    Confusing, I know.

    Slartibartfast (5cddf4)

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