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Battle-field Interpretation
May 3, 2011 12:54 PM   Subscribe

With the death of Osama Bin Laden having re-opened the debate over the intelligence value of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, it's worthwhile revisiting the wartime lessons of Sherwood Moran, missionary, Marine, and decorated POW interrogator (he preferred he term "interviewer"). Working on the front lines of battle - even under aerial bombing and artillery shelling - he combined "deep human sympathy" with a "ruthlessly persistent approach" to extracting information from a supposedly unbreakable captured enemy.

After skilfully drawing out actionable intelligence from battle-hardened Japanese soldiers, sailors, and airmen during the bloody fight for Guadalcanal, Moran was transferred back to Washington, D.C. to write up his unusually successful techniques for general dissemination. The result was his now-classic memo, "Suggestions for Japanese Interpreters Based on Work in the Field" (PDF), and its lessons have not lost their relevance:
To emphasize that we are enemies, to emphasize that he is in the presence of his conqueror, etc., puts him psychologically in the position of being on the defensive, and that because he is talking to a most-patient enemy and conqueror he has no right and desire to tell anything. {...}

I consider a prisoner (i.e. a man who has been captured and disarmed and in a perfectly safe place) as out of the war, out of the picture, and thus, in a way, not an enemy. {...} Then forget, as it were, the "enemy" stuff, and the "prisoner" stuff. I tell them to forget it, telling them I am talking as a human being to a human being, (ningen to shite). And they respond to this.
Military historian James Corum sums up Moran's approach: "Know their language, know their culture, and treat the captured enemy as a human being." Moran called it "enlightened hard-boiled-ness".
posted by Doktor Zed (56 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
But that's too much work.
posted by Gator at 1:03 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's an interesting Straight Dope message board thread from a guy who wanted to see how bad waterboarding was by trying it on himself. I don't think there's any way to verify it's true, but it really describes the horror and delirium of the process.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:03 PM on May 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


If Zappa and the Scorpions can bring down the Iron Curtain, just think what Beyonce and 50 Cent could do for the Middle East!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:07 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Professional military and intelligence agency interrogators, since at lest WW2, have repeatedly said that gaining the subject's trust is the best way to get timely and accurate intelligence.

And some of our biggest fuckups, as for example with Soviet defectors, have been when the CIA instead tried turning the screws.

Torture is morally wrong, but it's also the first refuge of the incompetent interrogator, or of the fool who values vengeance over actually winning the battle.
posted by orthogonality at 1:10 PM on May 3, 2011 [16 favorites]


Torture is morally wrong, but it's also the first refuge of the incompetent interrogator, or of the fool who values vengeance over actually winning the battle.

Get a brain: Moran's
posted by hal9k at 1:12 PM on May 3, 2011 [20 favorites]


getting "into the mind and into the heart" of the prisoner and achieving an "intellectual and spiritual" rapport with him

Depends on what the goals are. Thinking you're winning the equivalent of the Super Bowl is more exciting and sellable to voters, than winning hearts and minds.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:13 PM on May 3, 2011


The problem with the "gentle" technique is that tough-guy blowhards everywhere have a hard time fapping to the idea. I wish I was kidding.
posted by maxwelton at 1:19 PM on May 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


The problem with the "gentle" technique is that tough-guy blowhards everywhere have a hard time fapping to the idea. I wish I was kidding.

I think the real problem with the "gentle" technique is that it would have made 24 extremely boring.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:23 PM on May 3, 2011


“One courier in particular had our constant attention,” one senior U.S. official said. “We identified him as a protégé of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and a trusted assistant to Abu Faraj al Libi,” who succeeded Mohammed as al-Qaida’s No. 3 after Mohammed’s capture.

It turned out to be a dead end, he had an al Libi.

(sorry)
posted by Hoopo at 1:25 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): "To the best of our knowledge, based on a look, none of it came as a result of harsh interrogation practices." [TPM]
posted by NationalKato at 1:26 PM on May 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


...plus a lot of toughguy blowhards like to think they're living 24
posted by aramaic at 1:26 PM on May 3, 2011


Yeah, props to Kiefer for being the grandson of Tommy Douglas and all that, but I honestly think he did more to whitewash Bush and torture in my Mom's mind than any other single factor.

Mom watched Sutherland's acting, and she "saw" before her own eyes that torture "worked" and that it really wasn't that bad or prolonged or hellish (the show only runs 44 minutes an episode after all), and that it only really happened to bad guys (expect when bad guys did it to our hero Kiefer, thus justifying when it when they got treated the same by the good guys).

So I mean, I hate to moralistically judge a Hollywood actor, but I think that Kiefer Sutherland is not a force for good in this world.
posted by orthogonality at 1:40 PM on May 3, 2011 [24 favorites]


I think the real problem with the "gentle" technique is that it would have made 24 extremely boring.

Plus, it would most certainly not be called 24. More like 378.
posted by vidur at 1:40 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the real problem with the "gentle" technique is that it would have made 24 extremely boring.

This is actually a huge problem: we support torturous therapies like "tough love" "boot camps" "attack therapy" and confrontational and humiliating addiction treatments like Intervention and the stuff seen on Celeb Rehab in large part because people think they work because that's what they see in the media.

It's really difficult to get evidence-based practices even into places you would think would be easier than military interrogations—ie, therapies for children, drug rehabs—when everyone sees on TV all this harsh stuff. It makes great drama and looks like it should work and seems to be endorsed by experts but really doesn't work (does harm, in fact)—and the "experts" actually don't know the science.

That this is true for torture during interrogations as well is horrifying. What makes good drama isn't what's effective in life.
posted by Maias at 1:42 PM on May 3, 2011 [23 favorites]



People who torture are sadists. As are people who order it.
posted by notreally at 1:50 PM on May 3, 2011


That this is true for torture during interrogations as well is horrifying. What makes good drama isn't what's effective in life.

Oh no, I definitely agree. I was just making a glib 24 joke. Didn't mean to derail. The whole premise of that show always creeped me out a bit. I think it definitely influenced the media narrative during the torture debacle.

Anyways, back to Moran.

People who torture are sadists. As are people who order it.

Yup.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:51 PM on May 3, 2011


Let's leave the being tortured to the torturers. Do unto to others, and all that.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:52 PM on May 3, 2011


Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.
Orwell said it, and he was right.

I've got a right wing friend who disgusted, he seems to feel that it's a slight on his own personal "manhood", that Obama did not order Osama's corpse to be dragged through the streets of New York in a triumphal parade ending with his severed head being put on a pike at Ground Zero. To him this failure to desecrate Osama's corpse is just one more proof that Obama is an America hating terrorist appeaser (not that he needed any more, he knew it since day one).

He is, needless to say, an enthusiastic supporter of torture, and for basically the same reason. It makes him feel big and strong and virile in a vicarious way to imagine that others, enemies, are being degraded and hurt by his team.

The idea that the supporters of torture are just cold blooded pragmatists is simply not supported by any available evidence.
posted by sotonohito at 2:14 PM on May 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


Thanks, orthogonality. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought the main purpose of 24 was to groom the American public into finding torture acceptable and effective.
posted by dr_dank at 2:15 PM on May 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


"The whole premise of that show always creeped me out a bit. I think it definitely influenced the media narrative during the torture debacle."
Posted by thsmchnekllsfascists

Mighty Wurlitzer
posted by marienbad at 2:21 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


To orthogonality and dr_dank: I'd always thought the same as well.
posted by Randwulf at 2:30 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's not kid ourselves, let's not use the "quote" enhanced interrogation "unquote" nonsense anymore.

We have become a nation who has embraced human torture when it suits our own needs and as such we have joined history among the North Koreans, the North Vietnamese , the old Communist Chinese and yes, Godwin forgive us, the Nazis.

Those are harsh words but I believe that history and whatever surpasses the United States of America will have a harsh judgement for us. We have embraced torture and we have embraced torture camps (aka concentration camps) around the world for those we proclaim to be our enemies . This past ten year change in our national attitude is likely Osama Bin Laden's and Al Queda's greatest victory . Evil breeds evil. We have become too much like what we were fighting against.

The human capacity for self-deception appears to be almost unlimited which is why we are not hanging our heads in shame just as the citizens of Nazi era Germany did not. I think many, even here on MeFi, will very vocally proclaim that I am over-reacting and overreaching with my statements here but it is undeniable that we as a nation have tortured, have allowed torture and furthermore have glorified in it via the popular media (i.e. "24 Hours"). Jack Bauer has become a populist folk hero rather than the crazed demon I think he would have been seen as in the 70's through 90's. We now glorify such people rather than demonize them.

Once people, either elected officials, soldiers or an entire society embrace torture and cruelty as a way of life they need to continue to embrace a culture of cognitive dissonance in order to not face the realities and the consequences of what we have done. We have allowed thugs and the criminally minded to lead our country for a decade and the culture of what we have embraced can not even be erased by our electing what we believed to be a leader oppossed to such means. In the end , even Obama could not close down the torture camps and in the end our civil liberties continue to be diminished.

I think it is only through an admission of shame and repentance that any hope of salvation for the soul of the United States of America lies and I do not think that any such actions will be forthcoming. I think we as a nation will continue deceive ourselves about what we have done and are now doing until we finally fall and , hopefully, something more humane takes our place.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 2:34 PM on May 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


We have become a nation who has embraced human torture when it suits our own needs and as such we have joined history among the North Koreans, the North Vietnamese , the old Communist Chinese and yes, Godwin forgive us, the Nazis.

I believe that you've left out a large number of others.
posted by goethean at 2:40 PM on May 3, 2011


To orthogonality and dr_dank: I'd always thought the same as well.

So did the US Army.
This past November [2006], U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind “24.” Finnegan, who was accompanied by three of the most experienced military and F.B.I. interrogators in the country, arrived on the set as the crew was filming. At first, Finnegan—wearing an immaculate Army uniform, his chest covered in ribbons and medals—aroused confusion: he was taken for an actor and was asked by someone what time his “call” was.

In fact, Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country’s security—was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. “I’d like them to stop,” Finnegan said of the show’s producers. “They should do a show where torture backfires.”

The meeting, which lasted a couple of hours, had been arranged by David Danzig, the Human Rights First official. Several top producers of “24” were present, but Surnow was conspicuously absent. Surnow explained to me, “I just can’t sit in a room that long. I’m too A.D.D.—I can’t sit still.” He told the group that the meeting conflicted with a planned conference call with Roger Ailes, the chairman of the Fox News Channel. (Another participant in the conference call attended the meeting.) Ailes wanted to discuss a project that Surnow has been planning for months: the début, on February 18th, of “The Half Hour News Hour,” a conservative satirical treatment of the week’s news; Surnow sees the show as offering a counterpoint to the liberal slant of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Before the meeting, Stuart Herrington, one of the three veteran interrogators, had prepared a list of seventeen effective techniques, none of which were abusive. He and the others described various tactics, such as giving suspects a postcard to send home, thereby learning the name and address of their next of kin. After Howard Gordon, the lead writer, listened to some of Herrington’s suggestions, he slammed his fist on the table and joked, “You’re hired!” He also excitedly asked the West Point delegation if they knew of any effective truth serums. ...

However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, [Finnegan] suggested, was misperceptions spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ ” He continued, “The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”
posted by ibmcginty at 3:13 PM on May 3, 2011 [26 favorites]


what, no roman love.
posted by clavdivs at 3:14 PM on May 3, 2011


On the 24 thing, more seriously than my previous comment, I have had the misfortune of having known and worked with people in positions of authority (outside the US) who thought that watching 24 should be part of counter-terrorism education and training, and that lessons from 24 need to be more widely disseminated. For all I know, those people continue to hold the same views and may even have acted upon them. That show "succeeded" far beyond its creators' may have thought it would.
posted by vidur at 4:37 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


You guys do know that 24 is out-and-out fascist torture propaganda, right?
posted by dunkadunc at 4:48 PM on May 3, 2011 [4 favorites]




The main purpose of 24 was to make money. It may have had other effects, but I don't buy that it was conceived with the "main" intention of influencing politics. I think it tapped into an _already-existing_ pro-torture narrative post-9/11. I can definitely buy that it had an effect, but I think it was an attempt to capitalize on that feeling rather than to shape it. And it was quite successful (at making money).
posted by wildcrdj at 4:59 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


You guys do know that 24 is out-and-out fascist torture propaganda, right?

And the first season of out-and-out fascist torture propaganda was AWESOME.
posted by josher71 at 4:59 PM on May 3, 2011


(Of course, 24 was conceived and initial filming happened _before_ 9/11, but obviously it and the creators were influenced by the post-9/11 mood quite substantially)
posted by wildcrdj at 5:04 PM on May 3, 2011


wildcrdj :The main purpose of 24 was to make money.... but I think it was an attempt to capitalize on that feeling rather than to shape it. And it was quite successful (at making money).

As is child pornography.
As is the cocaine trade.
As are organized crime "business ventures".
As is any money making scheme which preys on the worst inclinations of the stupid and the weak minded.
Are you certain of what point you wish to make?

And the first season of out-and-out fascist torture propaganda was AWESOME.

josher71: And the first season of out-and-out fascist torture propaganda was AWESOME.
posted by


History shows that a great many good Germans were stirred to awesome emotion as well by this film of their era. So you can take comfort are not alone in your appreciation for awesome things.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 5:15 PM on May 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, I'm not a fan of 24 (never seen it), but by most accounts, it started off as a very entertaining show.

How does the same creator of 24 (if Wikipedia is right in calling him the creator) end up creating such a turkey as The 1/2 Hour News Hour? It's like a bizzaro-world version of The Onion clips.

I guess the neocon mindset does action better than comedy.

And it's possible to spread your political views and make money. They're not mutually exclusive. The fact Surnow would agree to make something as heavy handed as The 1/2 Hour News Hour shows to me he probably didn't mind letting his political opinions color 24.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:32 PM on May 3, 2011


I...uh, wow. Well, I don't think Nazi comparisons are really the way to go here. I feel perfectly at peace with my opposition to torture as well as my love for the first season of 24. YMMV
posted by josher71 at 5:32 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the one hand you have everything we know about human psychology and the work of experienced professionals. On the other hand you have a bunch of rednecks with daddy issues. The only real debate is if we can prosecute the enablers of torture like John Yu. The reason this hasn't happened so far is all those vietnam draft dodging pundits who worship a false icon of the American GI created by Reagan era Hollywood bullshit.
posted by humanfont at 5:32 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The thing about torture is, it's very very good for getting the person you're torturing to tell you what he thinks you want to hear - what will make you stop torturing him. So you get a bunch of intelligence - and when you go to check it out it's all bullshit. What does that mean? Is he just confident that he can tough it out? Or are you just torturing some poor goat herder who doesn't have clue one?

There's also the fact that WWII GI's, on D-Day were told to try and hold out for 24 hours - after that everything they knew would be worthless. I'm just guessing here, but don't you think that Al Qaeda is a skosh more flexible than the combined forces of the United States, Canada and Britain.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:38 PM on May 3, 2011


Seems pretty obvious that so far we have no evidence torture was useful in this case. Zero. If anyone has a different understanding than this one from yesterday's NYT, please do link it:

Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier.[NOTE: there is no information about torture here] When the Americans ran the man’s pseudonym past two top-level detainees — the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; and Al Qaeda’s operational chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi — the men claimed never to have heard his name. That raised suspicions among interrogators that the two detainees were lying and that the courier probably was an important figure.

I'm still waiting for the part that justifies torture and indefinite detention as the way US intelligence got Osama. I freely admit that even if torture was used to obtain the courier's name I'd still be against the US government using it on general principles. But that debate so far doesn't have to happen, because so far I've seen no links or info that directly link the gathering of the courier's pseudonym with torture techniques.
posted by mediareport at 5:38 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, I'm not saying it's wrong to put your political views in your works. A lot of artists do that.

I don't think it's really so much propaganda as a reflection of what the creator believes.

That said, I think torture is reprehensible, and 24 puts it in a far too positive light. Real interrogation would make terrible TV, though, especially in a show that goes in realtime.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:43 PM on May 3, 2011


Rumsfeld in Newsmax: OBL info didnt come from harsh interrogations
www.newsmax.com/Headline/DonaldRumsfeld-gitmo-waterboarding-osamabinladen/2011/05/02/id/394820?s=al&promo_code=C30F-1
posted by Bwithh at 6:02 PM on May 3, 2011


Are you certain of what point you wish to make?

Pretty certain, yeah. There is a difference between outright propaganda and something that attempts to cash in on popular sentiment. 24 was never primarily propaganda as some upthread stated. I don't even think it's fair to say that it was a major force in driving a pro-torture feeling in the US -- that existed pre-9/11, was driven to new levels by a combination of 9/11, Fox News, the Bush administration, etc. 24 was a bit player, and primarily an attempt to cash in on the phenomenon. It was not Triumph of the Will, which was made at the behest of the government to influence popular opinion.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:10 PM on May 3, 2011


I don't buy that it was conceived with the "main" intention of influencing politics.

Fox. R uport Murdoch. Roger Ailes.
posted by orthogonality at 6:16 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Although I don't find it hard to believe that certain people would chose this particular time to look back and congratulate themselves for a job never accomplished while justifying the means they employed with legal roundabouts which had the side-effect of gleefully ingratiating themselves with a certain sector of the American public, I do find it hard to believe that this debate regarding the use of torture as it applied to both the Bush and Obama administrations is still happening.

People who torture are sadists. As are people who order it.

True, yet slightly more complicated. The physical torturers are the sadists, but those ordering the beatings in this case of 2001 to the present day, had a different agenda, one where the pain and suffering of the tortured mattered little in the realm of things, although for simplicity's sake I'll assume it did arouse some feelings of sexual gratification in those ordering it.

I'll say this again and I'll say it until I'm blue in the face: torture, as an interrogation technique, is useless. And everyone with the power to employ it knows this. It's only effective when it is primarily used to punish, to intimidate, to silence dissent, to influence opinion or to weed out the prima facia weaklings who without the threat of torture and death upon capture, would readily join the ranks of the enemy, whether that be an enemy presently deployed in the field, one sitting in the rear, a sympathizer debating the merits of taking up arms or the general public at large. Remember this, not only did the Bush administration torture foreign fighters and civilian non-combatants, but they also tortured wayward American citizens, as in the cases of John Walker Lindh or Jose Padilla, both of whom they later incarcerated for twenty and seventeen years respectively, no doubt sending the message to any potential domestic sympathizers that even thinking about going jihadi was going to land you a disappearance, some time in military prison and a long-term stint in near-solitary confinement.

To be brief, they were never torturing people in order to gain information. They were kidnapping, torturing, renditioning, disappearing and killing people outside of the law because they wanted to induce a worldwide fear that if you sided against the United States, bad things were going to happen to you and your family. They have funded and encouraged these activities, they have promoted them publicly and still utilize them, both active and passively, to cow any potential enemies, just like any unpopular authoritarian regime has done in the past, the details of which bear a striking resemblance to those made popular by US-backed and trained operatives in the southern American cone during the seventies and eighties.

As an enhancement to these activities, the Bush administration, through a facade of fear-induced and approved legalisms, took the opportunity to nullify and erase the civil rights that we as a people had fought to establish over the course of some 200+ years. These policies have been continued, and often enhanced, by the Obama administration to the point where anyone under the age of twenty wouldn't even be able to remember what their rights should be now or as most of us, not even have much of the temerity to ask for them to be reinstated lest we be singled out as anti-American, pro-Muslim, unpatriotic or worse yet, a Guantanamo-bound socialist, along with all of the social and financial stigma that any of those labels could carry. Pretty much one step away from mob violence, and if anyone remembers the LA riots, you'd remember what mobs of people do when they're angry. Surgical they are not.

I, for one, still post anonymously, not out of fear of the government questioning me about my views, but out of fear that my employer or coworkers would misinterpret my comments and fire or shun me. That's how effective this decade-long campaign of fear is in entrenching itself into the public psyche, and aside from given KSM the Guinness World record in water-boarding, they really didn't have to do it to a significant amount of people. So yes, if inducing a worldwide fear of you was your goal, then mission accomplished.

tl;dr: they weren't torturing for information inasmuch as they were trying to induce fear into people. Those are two separate activities.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:44 PM on May 3, 2011 [12 favorites]


Dianne, your agenda is showing.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:50 PM on May 3, 2011


What are you saying, Fletch? Do you have information that anything related to Osama's assassination came from torture-derived information? If so, linking it here would make sense.
posted by mediareport at 7:51 PM on May 3, 2011


Is what I'm saying, is that some are saying that 'torture derived information' helped kill Osama, and Dianne Feinstein says, 'nope, didn't' happen. Obviously both sides have an agenda in promoting their favored story since it makes their position look like the correct one.

Do I have any information that you don't have, nope, but Dianne Feinstein is undoubtedly promoting her agenda.

Do you have any information that proves my premise wrong, if so, linking here would make sense?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:20 PM on May 3, 2011


I have a friend who was a military interrogator, and basically I've never known anyone more opposed to the use of torture, primarily because the quality of intelligence given under such circumstances is worse than useless. If tortured, people will tell you whatever it is they think you want to know. If you torture them more, they will make up stuff that is even more desperate and far fetched. You'll waste a huge amount of time pursuing such false leads, and probably make bad mistakes because of it. But if you talk to them, as humans, the quality of the information received is *MUCH* better. They will become dependent on you, in many ways, as you're their lifeline to humanity.
posted by markkraft at 9:44 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


24 was never primarily propaganda as some upthread stated. I don't even think it's fair to say that it was a major force in driving a pro-torture feeling in the US -- that existed pre-9/11, was driven to new levels by a combination of 9/11-- wildcrdj

Actually I heard an Army interrogation expert on the radio who said that they had problems with new interrogation recruits precisely because of concepts they picked up from watching 24.
posted by eye of newt at 9:51 PM on May 3, 2011


Rachel Maddow interview with former SERE master instructor Malcolm Nance.
posted by homunculus at 10:24 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obviously both sides have an agenda in promoting their favored story since it makes their position look like the correct one.

Which is why reported facts are what we should be focusing on. Do you have any that contradict the NYT account I posted above? Because *those* reported facts, anyway, offer at least some support for Feinstein's claim.
posted by mediareport at 3:28 AM on May 4, 2011


I recently reread the Anatoly Kuznetsov memoir (is that the right term for it?) of the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, Babi Yar. Kuznetsov's grandfather so despises the Bolshaviks that he readily believes the pre-occupation Nazi propaganda regarding a "liberation" of Ukraine fromthe Russians. Of course, in reality the Nazis arrived and began their campaign of systematic enslavement and mass murder, and only later does he clearly see that liberation of Ukraine for Ukrainians is not what the Germans have in mind and says,, something to the effect of, "imagine what the Germans could have accomplished here if they had just pretended to be liberators and given us just a bit more freedom than Stalin!"
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:07 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I bought a copy of the US Army Intelligence and Interrogation Handbook a couple years back (granted, the version that they put in Barnes & Noble) because I was very interested in this debate. Mainly, I was interested in shooting people down regarding how awesome they thought torture was because they were so hyped up on 24 and their need to look tough.

The manual constantly emphasizes that prisoners must be treated humanely. Do not use force, do not threaten to use force, and never withhold medical treatment. It is repeated over and over again. Moreover, it makes the case for why this is necessary -- which has largely been stated above.

I'm not a peacenik. I thought Iraq was a bad idea, but my problem with Afghanistan has been with the mismanagement, not with the fact that we went at all. I believe in having a strong national defense. I have a lot of respect for the military, and I can't stand people who claim that it's somehow immoral to enlist.

The fact that our military -- and/or people working with them -- have tortured people, and haven't gone to jail for it, sickens me. It will always sicken me.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:38 AM on May 4, 2011




re: situationism. We swim in a sea of propaganda, thus the best tactic is to create opposing propaganda. Saturday morning cartoon about bumbling neocons?
posted by ergomatic at 9:50 AM on May 4, 2011


Jack Bauer has become a populist folk hero rather than the crazed demon I think he would have been seen as in the 70's through 90's. We now glorify such people rather than demonize them.

"Dirty" Harry Callahan, Rambo, and Charlie Bronson in "Death Wish" all beg to differ. They were all tragic or flawed characters for whom violence was a problem as much as an answer. They were warnings, or came to bad ends. And yet they were inevitably co-opted in sequels and by people who didn't think that vigilantism, or seeking revenge, or being a killing machine were bad things. So I don't disagree with your point that it's too bad many people seem to have "Jack Bauer" ideals; but I do disagree that the '70s - '90s were any different in that regard.
posted by Amanojaku at 1:40 PM on May 4, 2011


That former interrogator in homunculus' link makes some great points at 13:17, 15:17 and 16:17. He claims what worked best "time and time again" in the interrogations he ran were non-coercive techniques from law enforcement that build on rapport. He also claims Defense Department surveys of captured foreigners who make up 90% of the suicide bombers in Iraq and Afghanistan make it clear that U.S. use of torture and abuse is the #1 reason these people make the decision to actually take up arms against the U.S. It's worth sitting through his arguments.
posted by mediareport at 4:02 PM on May 4, 2011


Here's the thing. The question isn't whether torture ever works. Even the strongest opponents of torture would probably agree that somewhere, sometime, interrogators gotten useful information that way.

The question is whether torture is as good as gentler techniques. You pretty much have to pick one or the other. You have a limited amount of interrogator-hours to work with, and more importantly, it's very hard to use both approaches on the same person. I'm guessing a prisoner will only put up with "good cop/bad cop" for so long before deciding they're both bad.

You can think of it as a graph, with "aggression" on the x axis and "value of information" on the y (I'm an Econ major, bear with me). There'd be a peak on the left (gentle interrogation) and one on the right (torture), with a valley in the middle where the prisoner neither fears nor trusts you, and won't give much informaton up. Most people seem to agree the left peak is higher.

So even if the government found bin Laden with information that came directly from torture, I don't see why that proves it was the right decision. It's like using a hammer to open a box of wine glasses. Yeah, sometimes it'll work out, but that doesn't prove it's a good idea.
posted by abcde at 8:02 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


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