Friday, May 11, 2007

Torturing for Intelligence

I was watching Boston Legal with my girlfriend last night (yes, dumb show, but kinda funny, and it has Shatner) as they had a military guy on the stand making the standard argument the neocons have been making for several years now: We must kidnap and torture people to get intelligence that will save American lives and prevent then next 9/11.

And something occurred to me. Something other than the well-known flaw in this logic that information gained through torture is extremely unreliable. Something other than the fact that experts and those involved in "interrogating" prisoners have come forward and admitted that no actionable intelligence has been gained in this way.

No, what occurred to me is that we actually did get the intelligence we needed to prevent 9/11 and torture wasn't necessary to do it. The 9/11 commission's report as well as media investigations have shown that the FBI had the intelligence but that it was ignored by those who could have done something. 9/11 didn't happen because we weren't kidnapping and torturing people to get intelligence. It happened because we didn't do a good job of interpreting and acting on the intelligence we had.

So the argument that we can only prevent another 9/11 and save American lives by torturing people for intelligence doesn't make any sense at all even in a practical sense, leaving aside any bleeding-heart issues of morality or law. Our existing intelligence gathering methods prior to 9/11 worked. That's the bare fact of it.

Torture wasn't necessary then, and it isn't necessary now. Even the utilitarian argument for torture fails utterly. When you add back in the fact that torture doesn't produce good intelligence, that torture and extraordinary rendition are against the law and violations of the Geneva Conventions, and that torturing prisoners and stripping them of their civil rights is morally wrong and against the values on which the US was founded, there's just no excuse at all.



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