pete January 13, 2010 8:00 AM

“Last spring’s decision to release… memos on the interrogations of suspected terrorists… was designed to win political advantage by holding intelligence officers — whose offense was to follow faithfully their lawful orders….”

“Lawful orders”? Really? I agree with the use of the word “faithfully” here as “faith” means “belief in a higher authority”, but I think that many of us question whether those order could (or should) really be considered lawful. Also, I think that the political target was much more John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales than the intelligence officers. Yes, intelligence officers did catch some of the flack, but, then again, they did torture helpless captives.

jgreco January 13, 2010 8:47 AM

Isn’t “just following orders” the classic Nuremberg Defense? Why would anyone purposely Godwin their own argument?

On a side note, I think that image of a man in a ski mask holding a theater mask has become my favorite thing ever.

BF Skinner January 13, 2010 8:55 AM

@jgreco Isn’t

No US sailor has ever been charged with mutiny for following the orders of his captain and officers.

Yoo was on the Daily Show Monday pushing his book in an interview Stewart called “unsatisfying”. He contends to this day that the President can do pretty near anything in a time of war. “But could be checked by Congress and the Courts” “Even if they don’t know about it?” asked Stewart. No substative response from Yoo. Smug git.

Lawful is a complicated word. Lawyers are now an integrated part of combatant commands to advise theater commanders. How much more difficult to decide that your orders are “lawful” at the platoon or intell officer level?

The federal government at large depends on an office in the Dept of Justice called the Office of Legal Counsel for opinions on what is lawful. Surprise! VP Chaney got Yoo to take a smaller job than he was qualified for in an obscure office. What Chaney knew was the role of OLC and that Yoo believed in the unitary power of the president. Power that was not subject to question or oversite by anyone (but maybe a voter and after the election — screw ’em). Yoo’s opinions on wiretapping US citizens were written and delivered before Attorney General Ashcroft and his deputy were even briefed about the programs. This is illegal they said. OLC approved it they were told. Case closed. It’s lawful until challenged and adjudicated in court or Congress passes a law…except being a BIG secret they were never told about it widely enough or in sufficent detail to make oversite possible.

Winter January 13, 2010 8:58 AM

“— whose offense was to follow faithfully their lawful orders….”

At least since the Neurenberg trials, this is not a valid defense.

The US also did not accept this defense from Japanese solders after WWII and executed some of them for having subjected US prisoners to some of the same treatments. And these Japanese soldiers acted within their own laws of the time.

On the other hand, this article does beautifully illustrate the demoralizing effects of blaming the underlings.


uk visa January 13, 2010 8:59 AM

“How, in the face of such betrayal, can we expect to bring new generations into the intelligence ranks?”
It strikes me that anybody naïve enough to join the intelligence services with the belief that politicians wouldn’t betray them for their own self interest isn’t appropriate for intelligence work.

jgreco January 13, 2010 9:17 AM

@BF Skinner

The Nuremberg Defense was not considered a valid defense against war crimes during the Nuremberg Trials (see the London Charter of the International Military Tribunale).

Regardless of whether or not it is a valid defense in this case, it is a really bad defense from the “public opinion” point of view. Hence my reference to Godwin’s Law.

When people hear “just following orders”, they think “nazis”, regardless of merit.

Clive Robinson January 13, 2010 9:17 AM

Having once been a little to close to a terrorist snipers bullet for comfort I can understand some of the sentiment of the auther.

But he claims “with luck” I’m sorry, I had it drumed into my head there was no such thing as luck only a lack of foresight by one or other party.

Yes you have to take risks (being at the top of a microwave radio mast in hostile country is one such risk. But there are ways to minimize (but not eliminate) risk.

Beliving in luck is like beliving in accidents, the more you belive it the more likley an accident is going to happen to you.

Yes the Intel community is getting stick from politicos, it was ever thus, however of recent times the “cult of personality” has bitten politicos who actualy have little or nothing worth while to add to 99% of situations.

However I am very disapointed in POTUS for a man who is supposed to be a logical thinker he realy has jumped on the “bash those who can’t fight back” beurocratic band wagon, instead of practicing a little interlectual honesty.

I suspect that as we are on the cusp of a tipping point on the DHS/TSA and insergents/terrorists/etc that POTUS’s choice will come back to haunt him over and over.

BF Skinner January 13, 2010 9:32 AM

@Clive “a logical thinker he realy has jumped ”

We tend to forget that Presidents Obama and Bush are first and foremost – politicians. I’m not using the term in it’s dirty sense here. From the Greek polis. I think they remain aware that their power is from thier ability to sway public opinion.

When VP Chaney “lost” President Bush over the issue of Libby’s pardon. It was politics. Chaney saw the pardon as a simple exercise of executive priviledge. While having exercised power most of his life Chaney had never been been in elected office prior to 2000 but Bush seemed to understand (however dimly) that peoples opinions matter.

Perhaps a good leader knows when to go with the peoples opinions and when to buck them.


No. I take your point and it’s what I think when I hear the phrase. But my training on what was lawful and what wasn’t was very specific to the billet I had in service. Had I been picked up and put down in say a mixed use, multi tenant detention facility in Iraq like abu grabe I wouldn’t necessarily know (without more training) what was and was not legal. If I was a cop in civilian life I’d wonder if the laws in Iowa were the same as the place I was. I’d depend on my LPO or top to tell me it was (assuming they even knew and weren’t making it up as they went.)

Clive Robinson January 13, 2010 9:46 AM

@ Bruce,

On an different and only faintly related subject.

In the European Court of Human Rights the judges struck down the UK’s position of random stop and search as enshrined in section 44 of the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000.

But… The Home Secretary Allan “cluless” Johnson has anounced that the Police are to continue in what is now an illegal act…

Andre LePlume January 13, 2010 9:56 AM

If the clandestine service is so important, and its members so valorous, anyone who would intentionally uncloak one would seem to be a particularly evil scumbag. I wonder how Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby feel about that?

BF Skinner January 13, 2010 11:03 AM

Thinking it over the more I think about it the more it seems that public opinion is a constraint and deterent to what politicians feel they can get away with. I hear the Washington Post front page test cited a lot.

@Andre LePlume “how Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby feel ”

Scooter’s trying to get his law license back and Dick? Well, don’t you really have to be warm blooded to have feelings? Based on their recent behavior I’d say they feel pretty good –all for the greater good!

Alan January 13, 2010 11:19 AM

“Last spring’s decision to release secret Justice Department memos on the interrogations of suspected terrorists was a blatantly partisan act. It was designed to win political advantage by holding intelligence officers — whose offense was to follow faithfully their lawful orders — up to opprobrium and scorn.”

Yeh, he lost me right there, too. The point of releasing these memo is to show what the higher-up’s did (like Bush, Chaney, Yoo, etc), not the field agents.

Grenier’s inability to recognize that shows that he is focusing too much on his own “tribe”, the CIA, and leads me to question his judgment and movivations.

Fraud Guy January 13, 2010 11:38 AM

BF Skinner

Cheney was an elected US Representative for Wyoming from 1979-1989, in addition to his various executive branch posts.

Mike January 13, 2010 11:39 AM

“On a side note, I think that image of a man in a ski mask holding a theater mask has become my favorite thing ever.”
–Posted by: jgreco

Just wanted to add my vote for this image to be entered into the TSA logo contest 🙂

(will cross post the suggestion)


paul January 13, 2010 11:47 AM

The whole thing kinda falls apart on second reading. It’s apparently OK to go out to strange places and get killed by people one trusts implicitly, but not OK to be (anonymously) held up to opprobrium by pundits or politicians for making mistakes or doing something that one almost certainly knew wasn’t legal. Very macho set of values, I guess. He also papers over the difference between field officers and analysts (the ones who are oging to be making decisions about what list to put some guy on.)

But mostly, it seems, he’s using the deaths of one group of CIA officers (who may or may not have been remiss in tradecraft) to sanctify unlawful acts by other CIA officers. Which is what every defender or crooked or brutal cops does when they blather about “men putting their lives on the line”.

Rik January 13, 2010 1:02 PM

@Clive Robinson,

Since when did the British Government take notice of anything said regarding the rights of individuals. I assumed that everyone already knew that people that live in Britain have no established, written, rights.

On the same day this judgement was delivered, British Police were force to agree that it was wrong to stop and search two eleven year old boys…

Perhaps one day the Police will get around to catching some criminals?

We live in hope.

scott January 13, 2010 1:38 PM

@BF Skinner

“No US sailor has ever been charged with mutiny for following the orders of his captain and officers.”

Of course you don’t get accused of mutiny when following orders! But you may get charged with something else, that may or may not be a more heinous thing than mutiny.

I think maybe I’m missing your point.

Brandioch Conner January 13, 2010 2:10 PM

“Loyalty can take many forms, but when all is said and done, loyalty is essentially tribal.”

You talk a lot about loyalty, but not about honor.

Loyalty without honor is the mafia.

“A wealthy nation that refuses to invest sufficiently in available technology, or to put up with travel delays necessary to see whether passengers are carrying explosives onto airplanes, chooses instead to excoriate the intelligence community for failing to see unerringly into the minds and hearts of men.”

Feel free to reference your other articles or comments where you had opposed the useless “security theatre” and advocated real reforms. Otherwise you are the same as those “armchair geniuses” you mention.

“Meanwhile, intelligence analysts who are charged with making subjective judgments as to which of the hundreds of thousands of possible terrorists lurking in their databases merit their focused scrutiny to “connect the dots” are being accused of dereliction for having underestimated the threat from a single African college student.”

Again “hundreds of thousands”. That is the failure and you don’t even see it.

“Members of Congress who had enthusiastically encouraged aggressive interrogations in the wake of 9/11 suddenly suffered amnesia when the political zeitgeist shifted.”

And blaming politicians is always a fun game. Particularly when you never bothered to correct them before.

“It is possible to reward loyalty with loyalty while still insisting on the highest standards of professionalism from our intelligence officers.”

That question is backwards. Why would you reward someone who lacks professionalism?

Nick P January 13, 2010 2:10 PM

The one thing I really agree with in this article is his comments about the next generation of clandestine agents. I for one have turned down numerous positions dealing in classified information or protecting high value assets. I’d love to do that work and make this country safer. However, there’s so much politics and red-tape in those positions that I would have been doing truly useful stuff only 10-20% of my time, vs. 80-90% in most of my corporate jobs. I’m sure I’m not the only one who turned down federal service for fear of being a victim of the government and its processes. They need to change.

Sandifer January 13, 2010 2:48 PM

@Winter: “The US also did not accept this defense from Japanese solders after WWII and executed some of them for having subjected US prisoners to some of the same treatments.”

No. Some Japanese were executed, but for far more heinous crimes than the torture of a prisoner or two — we are talking ordering and/or carrying out mass executions for instance. Of those that were convicted for torture of prisoners, which included many other more heinous acts than just waterboarding by the way, they received prison terms, not execution.

HJohn January 13, 2010 3:07 PM

We frequently caution people not to overreact to things. This is wise.

I think we are overreacting to the waterboarding issue. Now, if everyone detained had been waterboarded, there may be a point, but that is not the case.

Kalid Shiekh Mohammed and two other top operatives had important information they would not give up. In fact, KSM actually admitted to interrogators that he knew and wasn’t talking because “they would find out soon enough.”

These are three men who still have all their limbs. They have all their teeth. No bones were crushed. They still have both their eyes. To cite a few historical examples of what often happens to prisoners of war. This is to say nothing of the recent ones who get their heads cut off (Daniel Pearl at the hands of KSM for example).

Now, good and honorable people can differ as to whether or not the action was appropriate. Personally, I think the propoganda harm has been more than the intelligence benefits. Conversely, I fail to be able to muster any sympathy for the three who were dunked, nor can I muster any contempt for those who decided to use waterboarding–on the heals of the horrific attack that killed 3,000 and costs billions.

In the days following 9/11, we grounded all flights because we really did not know the full scope of the attack… given the circumstances, it was understandable. In 2003, I believe it was when KSM and his comrades were dunked, we didn’t know what they knew, but we know they had successfully plotted thousands of deaths and had good reason to believe they knew more. When looking at it in the specific circumstances, and not just hindsight of what we know now, I can see where there was a sense of urgency about obtaining information.

For the most part, waterboarding would not work. A person without information would say anything to make it stop. However, it was clear the monsters that got dunked, 3 of them (THREE), had information.

Of the three that were dunked, all of them cracked in under 2.5 minutes with their health in tact. KSM was the longest, at 2.5 minutes. They were able to stop it by talking. Unfortunately, we may never know how many lives, if any, were saved. But we do know the propaganda price paid. It appears to have not been worth it based on the knowns. But I haven’t lost any sleep over it, i was hazed worse in college.

BF Skinner January 13, 2010 3:46 PM

@Scott “maybe I’m missing your point”

My point here was when you are obeying orders from lawful commanders who are themselves disobeying or issuing orders in contravention of lawful orders … crew is not held to account–The commander is.

@Fraud Guy “elected”
Noted–I misread my source. 5 time? And was minority whip? I always like Wyomingians too…Goes to show you you never can tell.

Peter E Retep January 13, 2010 4:47 PM

The rule of Law means:
Every government armed service and authorized to use or order force person is instructed in the U.S. Constitution, and the rights it recognizes.

They are also instructed to never follow an unlawful order – i.e. in violation of the constitution.

Further, courts have re-affirmed the Constitutional obligation follows the Flag and the Authority.

So, if you see an order against the Constitution, you are liable for criminal behavior if you follow it.
That’s pretty much it.

The FBI/DIA has always known it.

McNamara’s Amoral Recruited Bunch seem to have mostly missed the point,
and gone off the ranch on their own.

Lesser Whark January 14, 2010 5:45 AM

@Peter E Retep:
If I commit Grave Breach of the Geneva Conventions, nothing protects me – not my Constitution, not my President, and definitely not my current orders or Rules of Engagement. At best, my country will refuse to extradite me to face justice. At present, the US does not acknowledge the International Criminal Court in The Hague – but that could change. Slobodan Miloshevich probably thought he was immune once too.

It doesn’t matter if I waterboard one prisoner for one second. Waterboarding is torture, and torture is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. It doesn’t matter what the prisoner knew, or what he did. Just don’t do it.

I don’t know where you get your 2.5 minutes from. The CIA memos talk about 183 times. At best, that’s 183 separate pours, as part of a minimum of 5 discrete waterboarding sessions.

@Brandioch Conner:
Your reading of Mr Grenier’s loyalty seems accurate. He seems to say that, given conflict between the President and the CIA, or the American people and the CIA, he will protect his tribe – the CIA. His closing comments are quite chilling. Did the CIA murder John F. Kennedy? I doubt they’re competent enough. Could they murder a president in this century? Mr Grenier seems eager to try.

Russell Coker January 14, 2010 6:26 AM

HJohn: One of the many problems with torture is that it just doesn’t work. People who break under torture don’t tell the truth, they say whatever the torturer wants to hear.

Another problem is that it just isn’t as effective at making people talk as TV shows like “24” would have us believe. I watched an interview with a young man from East Timor who was tortured by the Indonesian army when he was 9 years old. He didn’t break – because most of his relatives were the people the Indonesians wanted. If the Indonesians can’t successfully torture a 9yo child then why would anyone expect torture to succeed on an adult?

I watched an interview with a Dutch man who had opposed the Nazis when they occupied the Netherlands. He was water-boarded among other things with no result. Then he was interviewed by the most feared interrogator (known as “the school-teacher” if I remember correctly), that interrogator didn’t hurt him – just asked a lot of probing questions and carefully considered the answers. The Dutch man convinced the Gestapo that he was not a member of the resistance and was released.

The police forces know the best methods of interrogating suspects. They involve establishing a rapport with the suspect, keeping them talking, and then looking for discrepancies. Often they can trick a suspect into giving away clues to the desired information and then play a guessing game until they get what they want.

GordonS January 14, 2010 6:50 AM

“i was hazed worse in college”

I seriously doubt it… you were waterboarded 183 times over a month?

I for one cannot even imagine how terrifying an experience that must be. I’d imagine if I had any knowledge of interest it would have been extracted long before the 168th waterboarding…

HJohn January 14, 2010 8:48 AM

We can agree to disagree, and I don’t want drawn into the argument. As I said, I don’t think it was a good idea. And good people can differ on this.

But I also cannot muster any sympathy for KSM. He doesn’t get Geneva Convention privileges, and didn’t get dunked until after he killed 3,000 people.

There are really two issues. First, I don’t think it was worth the PR cost. and Second, I think we are overreacting to it. Those seem contradictory but aren’t

Happy New Year

thinker January 14, 2010 9:00 AM

“They were able to stop it by talking. Unfortunately, we may never know how many lives, if any, were saved.”

‘Cracking’ a man means breaking his will? Denying him essential human rights like not harming physical and psychical integrety? Without a trial? Do you see the point?

And then to justify this with potentially saved lives “if any”…. so sad.

Torture is known to be ineffective at least since 1631 when the book ‘cautio criminalis’ was published by the jesuit priest Frierich Spee regarding the with hunt in europe at the time.

No order by superioirs or higher intention can justify torture.

And to compare systematic torture with college rites is outright stupid and evidence of complete lack of understanding.

HJohn January 14, 2010 9:12 AM

@thinker: And to compare systematic torture with college rites is outright stupid and evidence of complete lack of understanding.

It was an off handed comment thinker, calm down, i certainly don’t think hazing is worse. I’ve already said I thought it was a bad idea to do it, but given the three people it was done to and why in the specific circumstances, I think people are overreacting to it (especially since the people who are up at arms about it wouldn’t have minded if KSM would have just been killed). Daniel Pearl would have rather been waterboarded.

thinker January 14, 2010 9:15 AM

“He doesn’t get Geneva Convention privileges, and didn’t get dunked until after he killed 3,000 people.”

exactly the point – he is denied the rights of the Geneva convention AND the rights of normal jurisdiction. His interrogations are arbitrary acts.
Did he kill 3000 people? How come you know? I thought all pilots were dead (yeah, except for the conspiracies out there). If we consider him an enemy who gave orders to attack we should place him in front of a war tribunal – but this requires the rights of the Geneva convention. He we consider him a criminal mastermind then he should be properly prosecuted and should have the same rights e.g. to refuse evidence that any mafia boss has as well.

You do not have to like him at all. But you should be concerned about his treatment. Applauding to arbitrary acts by the government is dangerous.

thinker January 14, 2010 9:24 AM

No, I do not think that people are overreacting to torture to a human person.

there is no such thing as a rating to the deserves a person has for his human rights. Our arguments for humanity and justice are only as strong as our will to grant these as well to people we despise most. Everthing else is arbitrariness.
And arbitrariness by gouvernments is dangerous.

Except one is also happy in a dictatorship. Then everything is fine as long it is not of personal concern.

HJohn January 14, 2010 9:27 AM


I did not applaud. I think it was a bad idea. I just think it is being overreacted to given the circumstances.

And my “potential ‘saved lives, if any'” comment that you think is so sad is just a true statement. We cannot predict the future either way. I would bet that lives were saved, but can’t prove that, and you can’t prove that lives weren’t. Nothing sad about that, it’s just intellectual honesty.

Anyways, I don’t want this to turn nasty. I’ll read any futher posts but probably won’t respond to them. It was never my intent to trigger a nasty argument, especially when, as I’ve said, I think waterboarding is wrong.

HJohn January 14, 2010 10:03 AM

@Lesser: “I don’t know where you get your 2.5 minutes from. The CIA memos talk about 183 times. At best, that’s 183 separate pours, as part of a minimum of 5 discrete waterboarding sessions.”

You are correct, the 2.5 was how long it lasted the time he gave. I misstated. My apologies.

Joanne January 14, 2010 11:29 AM

In general, I thought it was an interesting article that gave a view of the clandestine service that I haven’t really seen – however there were three points where he lost me, where something interesting started turning into a propoganda piece.

The first was with the sentence: “For these men and women, like the uniformed troops they serve alongside, have assumed great risks, and they have assumed them to keep the rest of us safe at home.”

Whatever they’re doing – it’s to keep us safe. What ungrateful wretches we must be to question their professionalism, their loyalty to us (though if loyalty is tribal, can they really be loyal to us at all?)

For me, this argument is starting to look a bit like Godwin’s law – it’s a statement designed to shut down debate, not further it. Further, it’s not even true – their actions and decisions are not designed to keep me safe. These people don’t even know who I am, nor do they care about me as a person – to protect ‘us’ is a bedtime story they are telling themselves to be able to sleep at night. (As a thought experiment, would a member of any of the services who are there to ‘protect us’ be willing to take one of ‘us’ prisoner and hold them incommunicado and subjected to torture outside the rule of law for a period of years – as that has happened at least once with the cooperation of police and the military, the answer is yes – so it’s not about either rule of law (which is ignored when expedient) nor about protecting anyone in particular, so stop with that excuse.

The second point was with the derision shown toward outside analysis. The implication being that we should never question what is being done to protect us – because no-one else could possibly know all the detail nor what it means to be in that position. (Oh – and those former employees – people that used to be in that position, their analyses are worthless because it’s for their gain, to get them on the news, to sell a book, not to help anyone else).

To this, I say, “No”. You do not get to do whatever you want in the name of protecting me (or someone – ‘us’, whatever) and then say I have to accept that – and to accept uncritically that it actually succeeded in protecting me to some extent.

That said, there is a certain amount of ‘armchair quarterbacking’ going on. But that is always going to happen when news of an event becomes public. There’s no reason not to do it, and perhaps some of that analysis can be used to guide future actions.

What I mean by this is that, yes, I agree that there are hard decisions that need to be made on the ground, and some number of those are going to be viewed as ‘wrong’ when all the facts are in. That ‘armchair analysis’ by those who only find out later can be used to create doctrine and training that make the next hard decision better, rather than ignoring everything as “grave platitudes on the enormity of the mistakes made” – full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. Those ‘armchair geniuses’ have nothing worthwhile to add to the discussion and should be ignored.

No! While there is a low signal to noise ratio, there are certainly some good ideas presented – look for them! Don’t dismiss analysis merely because it shows up on the evening news and is designed to be provocative enough to sell a book. (Nor should such analyses be uncritically accepted – I am merely saying that they should not be dismissed out of hand, and the author is wrong to put them in that light.)

Finally, the final two paragraphs left me absolutely cold. The more so since the author jumps right into doing what he accuses others of doing – using this for political gain. His political gain is to increase the power of his tribe – the clandestine service, to reduce the oversight, increase the manning and funding – political goals with a political document (the op ed itself) to push them.

If all politicians are dishonorable (which they are generally not – at least no more than any of us) and he is being a politician (in the sense that he is pursuing a political goal with the means at his disposal: attempting to sway public opinion), then doesn’t that make him dishonorable and his motives suspect by his own argument?

Perhaps I am over-reading it. But – if he is going to casually toss around words like ‘betrayal’, and push on our hearts with appeals to “those who risk everything to defend us”, then I don’t think I am far from the mark.

As another point – in some sense, he is saying that the government (congress, the president(s), the justice department, etc.) is betraying the government (the members of the clandestine service).

Indeed, as Nick P notes above, he is “not the only one who turned down federal service for fear of being a victim of the government and its processes.” Notice that being in the federal service means you are a part of the ‘government and its processes’.

Guess what – no part of the government gets a free pass to do whatever it wants. And that ‘90% of my time’ doing non-useful stuff – is as accurate as any made-up statistic can be. It’s not even very well defined, and sounds more like ‘useful’ is ‘what I like doing’.

So – that was about as long as the article itself – I hope I didn’t bore anyone, but there was a lot to discuss.

ex animo-


old vet January 14, 2010 12:07 PM

serving with 1/20bn Americal, in 1968, while watching torture (mild) with a ta12 field telephone, I was about to take a photo when approached by an unknown GI, and told that if I took the photo I would be killed. considering the unit had committed the My Lai massacre (I didn’t know that at the time, but I knew of casual murder which was common) I took him seriously.
Torture is as american as the tucker telephone, and mass graves at Aguacate Honduras,
As american as Dan Mitrione, and the chicago police torturers,
As american as the death of the cabdriver in bagram, or the crucifixion on jail bars in syracuse new york
as american as john walker lindh taped to a stretcher in a frozen connex container with untreated wounds

Hjohn waves the flag of the most culpable terrorists while not acknowleging the abuses of abugraib bagram and guantanamo. many more than just the three that are acknowleged exclusively by the denial crowd were and likly still are being tortured.

thinker January 15, 2010 1:30 AM

@old vet:
there seems to be a shift in perspective – the people in abugraib did not even took the pictures in a concealed way. They were posing for the cameras. Maybe in this specific bn they will also approach potential photographers and let them know that they will be killed if they take pictures of wrongdoing. The difference today is, that every cellphone has a camera, digital cameras are as small as half a pack of cigarettes and is getting harder to totally control this.

Even if HJohn is only referring to the most culpable terrorist – what separetes us from them is following our rules even when treating the enemy.
The worst murderers have rights too. This insight is crucial for a free society. they have to be properly prosecuted and sentenced – but only according to the rules that are applicably to everone and not to some some arbitrary ad hoc standards like “enemy combattant” just to make it easier for us to forget our rules and thus abandon our own ethical values.
How about if the next police officer starts to threaten with torture during a kidnapping investigation. All in good faith to rescue the victim. Or in a murder cases to prevent furhter deaths. This is a very slippery slope and the idea that it is best to avoid it by granting even culpable suspects rights is more than 300 years old and the basis for our modern society. If we give this up we are heading back to medieval times.

Nick P January 15, 2010 2:44 AM

@ Joanne

I’m with you in on a few points. For one, regardless of their intentions, they must still have accountability. They may or may not be making all these sacrifices for our sake but they get their via a chain of command with questionable integrity. If anyone wants to see clandestine action gone wrong, see Mossadeg’s overthrow or our action in Guatemala (I think it was). Both were done for money, both put dictators in place of elected officials, the first made Iran a long-lasting enemy, and the last was just plain horrible (“hangings” done on the ground and such). A need for oversight immediately appears, even before one discusses projects like MKULTRA and the bio/chemical weapons tests on American soil. At some point, someone should have stood up and said: “wtf, this isn’t even American. We are pissing on our own values, being hypocrites, and we will pay for it in the end by creating an army of enemies.” Nobody did. Hence, oversight. 😉

As for my statements, let me clarify the issue of waste. I probably would have taken a security engineering job rather than a specwar offer, mainly because IT security is my passion and what I do best. Most government activities have a lot of red tape: procedures that exist but don’t necessarily offer real benefit. If you remove these procedures and still meet all goals, they are red tape. The government has a lot of it and my DOD friends, one a chief of telecommunications, tell me they go through huge pains to get any work done. There are so many standards, certifications, accountability procedures, and other requirements that it’s hard to meet the performance of their commercial counterparts, much less do something innovative or groundbreaking. This is one reason why many agencies, even the NSA, are outsourcing their activities. It would be better if they just cut out some red tape so internal people can do their work, but they refuse and then have to outsource. Sad, in a way.

One big aspect of this I’d have to face is certification. I work on medium to high assurance designs and such designs must pass rigorous certification for government use, mainly under Common Criteria. Up to EAL4, the CC just proves a product can perform certain functions and the developers took a methodical approach. Secure software guru Johnathan Shapiro describes it as a glorified (and expensive) ISO 9000 quality process. It costs an average of $1 million and many vulnerable products (like Windows) have met its requirements. If I cut the fat and used skilled but unofficial independent labs, I could accomplish about the same for $50k-$100k. Here’s the big question: How much better would the product be if I had that extra $900k to spend? How much safer would our troops be? How much more productive could my developers be? “Waste is a thief.” (source: Fight Club) Most of the CC and C&A efforts are quite wasteful. FAA’s DO-178B is similar. You spend most of your time doing required paperwork rather than improving the product.

To be honest, I’d rather be designing stuff that protects Americans rather than doing several thousand pages of mandatory but unproductive paperwork. If I work in DOD, I can’t do that. Their processes limit what I can achieve. If I was in specwar or clandestine service, I’d have a different problem: knowing I can trust that my mission came from good intentions and not some immoral political goal. Either way, I may be accountable for horrific results that I had no power to prevent. In a commercial setting, this means the business looses out and I really don’t worry too much about that. In high assurance government work, the consequences of failure can be extraordinary. With the red tape and wasteful processes, it’s like they would be setting me up to fail. It’s why solutions are always a few years off instead of months. Quite honestly, it would probably drive me crazy.

HJohn January 15, 2010 7:28 AM

@thinker at January 15, 2010 1:30 AM

I think my point has been lost in disagreement. I do not condone waterboarding, nor do I think that something happening once makes it as bad as it happening a million times. Our disagreement is in the matter of degree.

Your kidnapping analogy is a good one. Of course, it would be wrong to waterboard him. But, imagine this scenario. A man has kidnapped a child and is in custody. He taunts the authorities, that the child is almost out of air and they’ll never find the child in time, and the child will be dead and join the 5 he already killed. Given that he not only admitted it, he taunted about the child’s immenent death. So they dunk him in water until he tells them.

Now, I’m not saying the above is right or fair. I am saying it is more understandable than doing it “just because they are a suspect.”

We agree in theory, we just disagree about is how black and white it is under some dire circumstances.

I’ve enjoyed the dialogue. I’m not saying you are wrong.

Joanne January 15, 2010 9:02 AM

@HJohn –

The kidnapping analogy – the ticking time bomb – whatever. A smart kidnapper wouldn’t gloat until it was already too late. And that doesn’t take too many smarts – until that point he would be denying that it was him at all. So – satisfying a need for revenge, what does the torture accomplish?

Indeed – outside of movies, has that scenario ever taken place? A sociopath who serial kills children (so far as I know) hasn’t ever set up things to be in that position – it doesn’t even really make sense as a scenario!

Would police torture someone like that – probably, and for less cause even. Or for no cause (I seem to recall an incident in NY where a Haitian immigrant was sodomized by police with a baton…)

In every case, those public officials who perform the torture, and their superiors who condoned the torture should be held accountable, and, if guilty, sent to prison. While you may allow the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario to be a mitigating circumstance, I do not – which means only that if we were on the same jury then they would go free. But there is no reason fo us not to know about it, and no reason for us not to judge and determine that the torture of captives is wrong.


HJohn January 15, 2010 9:08 AM


Analogies admittedly are never perfect parallels.

I also do not put waterboarding on the same level as things like cutting off limbs, crushing bones, and gouging eyes–all things that despots like Saddam used.

Cheers to you as well. I’m counting down the hours until Beer:30. 🙂

Brandioch Conner January 15, 2010 11:00 AM

“Indeed – outside of movies, has that scenario ever taken place?”


And how about we look at how it does happen in real life?

Someone is subjected to waterboard torture 183 times.

It’s kind of difficult to use the “ticking time bomb” excuse when the torturers have enough time to run through the process 183 times.

“In every case, those public officials who perform the torture, and their superiors who condoned the torture should be held accountable, and, if guilty, sent to prison.”

In my opinion, anyone who really believed that torture was necessary at that time SHOULD have the guts to stand up and say why they believed such and then accept the prison term.

The fact that they attempt to hide behind layers of bureaucracy and subordinates shows the lies in their statements.

HJohn January 15, 2010 12:35 PM

Like I’ve said, waterboarding is a bad idea, nor is there a perfect analogy for it. Saying we are overreacting based on circumstance is not the same as saying I think it was the right thing to do. The propaganda and credibility loss alone is probably greater than any good that came of it, but, (at risk of becoming a member of the association of redundacy association) I really wish we could know what information was gotten out of KSM and Co., and what good came of it.

I do wonder, however, how many people who would classify the KSM situation as a “movie plot” also believe 9/11 conspiracy theories (movie plots if I’ve ever heard them). Not accusing, just wondering.

Paul January 15, 2010 12:52 PM

“Like I’ve said, waterboarding is a bad idea, nor is there a perfect analogy for it. Saying we are overreacting based on circumstance is not the same as saying I think it was the right thing to do.”

Whether or not it is proper to equivocate those two sentiments, saying we are overreacting when talking about waterboarding is just insane. We’ve had Japanese soldiers executed for waterboarding. Demanding some sort of justice when our own people participate in the practice is overreacting? Just because there wasn’t bodily mutilation involved doesn’t mean we should go easier on people who waterboarded others. You wouldn’t argue that demanding justice for a murder is going overboard because it at least they didn’t rape the victim before murdering them.

“There’s a worse crime out there” isn’t a valid way of arguing that a crime is being overreacted to.

HJohn January 15, 2010 12:58 PM

@Paul: “”There’s a worse crime out there” isn’t a valid way of arguing that a crime is being overreacted to.”

I agree it isn’t a valid defense, but it is a valid consideration to the reaction of it. Most rational people would realize that punching someone in the face and shooting them in the skull are two very different crimes warranting different responses. Saying “at least I didn’t shoot them” isn’t a valid defense, just like saying “it doesn’t matter whether they hit them or shot them violence is violence” isn’t an appropriate response and, yes, the distinction is valid when saying it is being overreacted to.

HJohn January 15, 2010 2:49 PM

The best thing about this debate is… in 2 or 3 hours, most of us will be enjoying a cold adult beverage and shooting the breeze about less stressful and divisive topics. 🙂

Have a nice weekend my fellow bloggers.

mcb January 15, 2010 4:35 PM

@ HJohn

“in 2 or 3 hours, most of us will be enjoying a cold adult beverage and shooting the breeze about less stressful and divisive topics”

Yup, nothing puts the rule of law, extraordinary rendition, and torture in perspective like a six pack of ice cold Leinenkugels. Ahh…!

HJohn January 15, 2010 11:05 PM

@mcb and Nick P

They call booze truth serum… maybe we’ve just solved the interrogation problem? 😉

Have a great weekend.

Stephanie January 15, 2010 11:11 PM

Torture and war are easy for me to sit here and type about never having had to experience it firsthand and I admit my limited understanding of them in real life contexts. Yet I have heard the testimony of people who have been tortured, nuns and priests, and seeing innocents who just said whatever to get the pain to stop, that to me says enough. The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven for example, wrongly accused and tortured until they gave the answer that was sought. I recall the marvelous information Bruce shared about David Kilcullen and his position against torture because the information is not really that reliable. I don’t think anyone could say Kilcullen wanted the enemy to prevail by opposing torture. There are smarter, more humane, and better ways of getting information.

Nick P January 16, 2010 1:10 AM

@ HJohn

Sounds like the right way to go. Maybe throw a bit of Sodium P and charming ladies into the mix to make your solution complete. 😉

HJohn January 16, 2010 7:35 AM

@Stephanie: “I don’t think anyone could say Kilcullen wanted the enemy to prevail by opposing torture.”

I agree, and I would never accuse someone like him of something like that. It’s wrong to apply such nefarious intentions to people unjustly.

HJohn January 16, 2010 7:36 AM

@Nick P

Perfect. I wonder if we’ll get offered fat checks as the new counterterrorism czars? 😉

Nick P January 16, 2010 9:44 AM

@ HJohn

“Perfect. I wonder if we’ll get offered fat checks as the new counterterrorism czars? ;)”

Well, John, that all depends on your initiative. If you stop dreaming and start working… RIGHT NOW… to get us employed, I think it’s possible. We’ll split work 50/50: you do all the bureaucratic stuff and I’ll… blog. Yeah, blogging is hard work. Sound fair?

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