Could torture have prevented the Brussels terror attacks?

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In wake of the Brussels attack, media (including center-right polibloggers monikered “wordsmith”) once again are drawing focus on Trump; because how do you keep a narcissist happy? Feed them the attention they ask for:

The Republican frontrunner was the first presidential hopeful to respond to the Brussels attacks, tweeting and then appearing on multiple television shows to promote an anti-immigration policy and endorse torture.

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He also endorsed the use of torture for people who have information on terrorists.

“If they could expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding,” Trump told NBC’s Today Show. “You have to get the information from people.”

On Wolf Blitzer:

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Trump about Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam, who was captured in Belgium last week and is reportedly talking with investigators.

“Well you know he may be talking, but he’ll talk a lot faster with the torture,” Trump said, remarking that if he would have talked sooner, perhaps Tuesday’s attacks could have been prevented.

While I do believe we have moral standards to live up to, rule of laws to uphold, I also believe it’s immoral to not do everything we can to save lives because we treat our enemies with kid gloves. I understand that. I get it.

Unfortunately, Trump’s (mis)understanding of waterboarding as implemented in the Bush-era and how interrogations work is glaringly obvious. He apparently shares mainstream perception that the CIA and military engaged in torture; the difference being is his come-away: So what? It’s torture lite and we should not be ashamed of it but do “a helluva lot worse”. Trump is embodying the cartoonish view of right-wingers willing to go all Jack Bauer on some terrorist candy-a$$e$.

Trump, like most of the world, is speaking out of ignorance.

As Marc Thiessen, author of Courting Disaster, wrote in February as a response to Trump’s claims that he’d bring back waterboarding “and worse”:

the idea that we need something “beyond waterboarding” to achieve this is absurd. Of the tens of thousands of individuals captured since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, only about 30 were subjected to enhanced interrogation of any kind, and just three underwent waterboarding.

So the idea that we need to go “beyond waterboarding” to get the information we need to protect the country is flat wrong. With the exception of a few extreme cases—like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—we can get the information we need without waterboarding, much less techniques that are “far worse.”

SITs are appropriate in most cases. EITs, even in absence of any public controversy that arose after 2005, became less used and less needed as time wore on. In the early days, we knew very little about al Qaeda and were desperate to prevent the next wave of attacks that seemed imminent on the heels of 9/11. But by 2006, we owed over half of what we came to learn and understand about al Qaeda, through information obtained in the CIA RDI Program(s). To this day, the intelligence community is benefiting from those intell yields from the likes of KSM, who did have EITs applied, including 5 CIA swim lessons.

My response in February:

the issue is moot. When Ted Cruz states he “would not bring it back in any sort of widespread use,” it perpetuates a commonly held misperception that the practice was used on more than just 3 HVTs; and in use by our military (Rumsfeld specifically rejected it as an EIT when military officials came to him requesting alternate techniques, whereas Bush signed on to it while rejecting an EIT that was even more severe).

As I wrote before:

Waterboarding was discontinued in 2006 as a CIA EIT practice under Bush’s watch (and the last time an HVT received waterboarding treatment was in 2003) as its effectiveness was compromised when its usage as a technique to interrogate HVTs became common knowledge (applied to only 3 HVTs). President Obama’s 2009 EO signed upon his first day in office banning all EITs was basically redundant on the torture issue, since President Bush essentially said much the same in his 2007 EO.

 

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What made waterboarding- and all the EITs in the CIA program- effective as tools against HVTs who were trained to resist standard interrogation practices, was in the not knowing. In the secrecy. Because of all the media attention and President Obama’s decision to release the OLC “torture” memos describing the techniques, the Houdini psychological power of these techniques have been all but effectively nullified.The CIA program should probably be revived; but now that the magic tricks have been revealed to its al Qaeda audience, demystifying the EITs, HVTs know that what they have to train against is the smoke and mirrors of simulated torture, and not real torture. So what techniques would a revived CIA interrogation program that goes beyond the Army Field Manual have to entail? Whatever they come up with, we the general public should not be privy to.

 

Some comments I’ve seen from people argue “If it was okay under Bush, how come it’s not okay now?” How is it that a staunch defender of CIA waterboarding like Marc Thiessen not also endorse Trump’s views? How does former CIA Director Michael Hayden defend the CIA interrogation program with a straight face while attacking Trump over claims of military allowance for waterboarding (something that Rumsfeld had rejected as inappropriate for military interrogations)?

Peter Feaver:

there was a debate among reasonable lawyers about whether the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EIT) program launched by the Bush Administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and then rolled back in the second term in the face of public pressure and adverse court rulings, were legal at the time. But that program was much more narrowly circumscribed than what Trump is talking about –indeed, he explicitly says he wants to do “a hell of a lot worse” than what was done in that program. And note: last October, Congress passed provisions in the 2016 Defense Authorization Act that make waterboarding and other techniques Trump wants to go way past explicitly illegal. There simply would not be much of a debate about Trump’s proposals. The overwhelming consensus would be that it is illegal.

Besides the recent NDAA, Since the Bush-era, we’ve also had the 2005 DTA, Hamdan v Rumsfeld decision (wrongfully applying Common Article 3 of the GC), and 2006 MCA- all legislations that complicated matters for the CIA RDI Program (causing the CIA Interrogation program to suspend itself a couple of times, culminating in President Obama’s 2009 EO that officially ended it).

Feaver:

Every expert I have talked to has reached the same conclusion: Trump (and any lawyers he could find) would likely lose the case and the military would rightly see the orders as illegal.

Given that it would be illegal orders, General Hayden is absolutely correct: not only would the senior military leaders refuse to follow those orders, they would be legally and professionally bound to refuse those orders. Democratic civil-military relations theory further requires that they refuse these orders. Refusing these orders would not be a coup. It would be reinforcing the rule of law and healthy civil-military relations.

Feaver’s follow up:

This morning, I joined a group of scholars and experts in civil-military relations to post a letter calling on all presidential candidates, but especially Donald Trump, to stop boasting about ordering the U.S. military to commit war crimes. I had written on this a few days earlier, and was dismayed to hear Donald Trump double down on the boast at the Fox News debate on Thursday night.

As we were circulating and posting our letter, Trump was conducting an interview with the Wall Street Journal, apparently backing down. Here is his latest statement:

Mr. Trump, in a statement to The Wall Street Journal, said he would “use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies. I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters. I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”

This statement, if it reflects the true position of Trump today, possibly amounts to an extraordinary rebuke of everything he has been saying, and resaying, and repeating on the topic for months.

This is important. Trump would not be walking back from a stray comment made in the give-and-take of a chaotic debate. He would be flip-flopping from a boast that he has repeatedly made with as much aforethought as he gives anything he says.

It will still leave unanswered some troubling questions. Is Trump actually reversing himself, or has he wrongly convinced himself that his Thursday night debate boast is somehow consistent with his Friday midday Wall Street Journal retraction? Since Trump also falsely claimed on Thursday night that he had not reversed himself on numerous issues where the debate moderators had him nailed, chapter-and-verse, there is a reason to be skeptical.

But it is possible this is a sincere reversal. We will know that Trump is serious if he repeats his new message as often as he repeated his old one. If he does, that will go some distance to repairing the damage already done.

 

 

Here is a good recent interview with Michael Hayden on Lawfare Blog.

I purchased Hayden’s book, btw. A good read no matter what side of the issues you are on.

20 Responses to “Could torture have prevented the Brussels terror attacks?”

  1. 1

    another vet

    Trump, like most of the world, is speaking out of ignorance.

    Just like he did with his 9/11 truther comments and his comments about the Iraq War.

  2. 2

    Artfldgr

    That would also depend on whether or not what your doing is actually real torture or pseudo torture… the latter, waterboarding, is something we use in our own military training… if it was REAL, we could not do that… without making that distinction or saying what practice your using, there is no way to answer the question…

    the other half is whether or not your sure who you have has what you need…

    in this case, brussels was warned, and they didnt act on it.
    so, in this case the answer is no…

    If your not going to listen to warnings, torture is not going to help

    however, torture does work…

    The left says it doesnt, but the left is the side that has used it post royalty and those systems more than anyone…

  3. 3

    Artfldgr

    Fretting over waterboarding, writes British historian Andrew How Torture Helped Win WWII
    Roberts, obscures the fact that “enhanced interrogation techniques” have saved thousands of lives in every war. Plus, read Michael Korda’s review of Roberts’ book Masters and Commanders: How Churchill, Roosevelt, Alanbrooke and Marshall Won the War in the West, 1941-45.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/05/13/how-torture-helped-win-wwii.html

    The very success of the D-Day landings themselves can largely be put down to the enhanced interrogation techniques that were visited upon several of the 19 Nazi agents who were infiltrated into Great Britain and “turned” by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) between 1939 and 1945. Operation Fortitude—the deception plan that fooled the Germans into stationing 450,000 Wehrmacht troops 130 miles north of the Normandy beaches—entirely depended upon German intelligence (the Abwehr) believing that the real attack was going to take place at the Pas de Calais instead. The reason that Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, was utterly convinced of this, was because every single one of his 19 agents, who he did not know had been turned, told him so.

    If anyone believes that SIS persuaded each of these 19 hard-bitten Nazi spies to fall in with Operation Fortitude by merely offering them tea, biscuits, and lectures in democracy, they’re being profoundly naïve. An SIS secret house located in Ham Common near Richmond on the outskirts of London was the location where the will of those agents was broken, using advanced interrogation techniques that reportedly started with sleep deprivation but went on to gross mental and physical abuse. The result? Many thousands of Allied servicemens’ lives were saved because the German 15th Army stayed well away from beaches such as Omaha, Utah, and Sword. And another 100,000 others were stationed in Norway for another attack that never came.

  4. 4

    kitt

    There are those that say Belgium was warned, who knew day, time and place, its like saying Michigan is going to get hit, to prevent it we make everyone sit home anyone on the streets gets killed, for how long in what city.
    In Milwaukee they twarted an attack on the Masonic Temple, well why there? Why not the Elks Club, some terrorist sees the word Temple and associates it with Jew? If someone said terrorists were going to hit Milwaukee, what would we protect..the airport, the churches, bus lines…hell no surround the Brewery!
    If they hit the brewery torture is justified.

  5. 5

    SkippingDog

    If torture and water boarding are good enough to use on ferreting out Muslim terrorists, they must certainly be good enough to use for ferreting out domestic terrorists in the militia and “patriot” movements too, don’t you think?

    I’d love to see the Bundy Gang get some waterboard time. Once the gates are open, it’s fair for everybody.

  6. 6

    Randy

    There is a lot of ignorance on the definition of torture. In divorce cases, “mental cruelty” has been considered torture. To me, torture is an act designed to elicit critical information by performing physical or psychological acts against a person from which the individual is permanently injured.

    Denzel Washington in “Man on Fire” performed extreme physical torture when he cut off fingers and stuffed C4 into a dirty police man’s anus to collect information. He then pushed his car over a cliff. or blew up the police man. I would agree that this type of physical torture caused permanent injury.

    Disassociation, isolation and psychological manipulations or other forms of ill treatment during captivity that do not involve physical pain are examples of psychological torture by some but should it be?

    When we are determining interrogation methods of a terrorist, I expect we should first assess the actions this person has done and the importance of the information the captive has to yield. The “academic experts” on torture believe psychological ” manipulations cause long term issues like PTSD or other psychological issues that cause the captive to fail to associate with society after the interrogation. Since the captive we intend to interrogate has likely committed a capital crime, should society be concerned with the captives capability to return to society? When he/she committed the capital act, wasn’t the captive already psychologically damaged to the point he could not successfully return to society if committed the act?

    In many cases, physical pain torture is a combination of psychology and physical pain. As I was growing up on the farm, I remember being subjected to physical pain in the form of a lilac switch administered to the back of my thighs and buttocks. After a few sessions, I was suitably conditioned psychologically to give up any information I had withheld. There was no lasting physical or psychological injury.

    Many educators and researchers consider most anything as torture. You have heard about those poor university students who have experienced torture because they can not keep up their grade point average while they continue their social demonstrations. So, the issue here is what is the definition of torture that a civil society can administer to an obvious criminal/terrorist who can prevent the future loss of innocent lives. When you answer this question, consider that the future act may involve your family and loved ones! The use of enhanced Interrogation techniques on a professed criminal should be defined differently on a regular citizen. What may be considered torture of an innocent civilian may not be considered torture on a professed criminal who has committed capital acts and may have knowledge of future acts.

  7. 7

    Richard Wheeler

    @another vet: Trump shoots from the hip with no filter.
    He’s right on maybe 80% of the time—it’s that other 20% that make it so friggin scary to think of him in charge of anything.

    Semper Fi

  8. 8

    john

    Could our history of torture including homicide contributed to the liklihood of the terrorism in Brussels?
    from wikihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Ghraib_torture_and_prisoner_abuse#Prisoner_rape
    The same people mostly Sunnis that were in Abu Gharib later morphed into ISIS

  9. 9

    Nathan Blue

    @SkippingDog: Incorrect. Citizens have certain protections, as do foreign combatants. Those have all been followed in the waterboarding cases, and no laws were broken.

    The real crime was the general ignorance of the population, in regard to what our military and agencies do to get information. The act of interrogation is “torture”, in any degree.

    Waterboarding was convenient propaganda used to merely stoke a minority group of Americans that were already irrationally deranged with W.

    Waterboarding as “protest” is a cheap political stunt.

    Nothing more.

  10. 10

    David

    @another vet –

    And, again, Trump said yesterday morning he “sensed” this attack was going to happen in Brussels. If he is so prescient, so expert in counterterrorism, maybe he’d like to share it with the rest of us before an attack happens.

    BTW, for those who seem to be expert about being captured, being a POW, in these discussion threads, my dad said they too should be sharing their “expertise” in SERE training.

  11. 11

    Richard Wheeler

    @David: You’ve mentioned your Dad’s Opinion of Trump’s castigation of Mac’s Capture and his deportment can’t be printed in polite company.
    Pls tell your Dad that an old Marine Vet stands and salutes him. Thanks RW Capt.USMCR

  12. 12

    Nanny G

    @kitt: There are those that say Belgium was warned…..

    President Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the brothers responsible for the attacks on Brussels Airport yesterday, was sent to the Netherlands in June last year.

    He said Belgium had ignored Turkey’s warnings the Brussels attacker was a jihadi militant and was later released by Belgian authorities because they said “no links with terrorism” were found.
    …..
    Talking about President Erdogan’s revelation over Ibrahim El Bakraoui, Mike Hookem, a UKIP MEP, said: “Belgian security services were clearly involved in a massive failure which ended up in the deaths of innocent people.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~
    That’s not something the regular folk in Belgium could have been aware of.
    They rely on their gov’t to protect them.
    Their gov’t ignored another gov’t’s warning and people died and were gravely injured.
    We still have about 4 Americans missing from that scene, two of whom were live on the phone when the bombs went off.

  13. 15

    Randy

    @john: No! They just want to kill infidels. They also do not respect the US and the West because they fail to show strength. Negotiation is a weakness in the Middle East.

  14. 16

    another vet

    @David:

    If he is so prescient, so expert in counterterrorism, maybe he’d like to share it with the rest of us before an attack happens.

    I would say it didn’t take a rocket scientist to have figured out that Belgium was going to get hit but there are those who live in their little shells who probably did believe it wasn’t going to. After all, there are no radical Islamists looking to kill infidels. One thing I will say to his credit, at least he understands who the bad guys are making him a step up above Obama. But he’s also full of bluster and only one step above a 9/11 truther so I question if he would actually do what it takes to eliminate the threat.

    BTW, for those who seem to be expert about being captured, being a POW, in these discussion threads, my dad said they too should be sharing their “expertise” in SERE training.

    I wonder who here he could be referring to?

  15. 17

    David

    @another vet #16 –

    Agreed it does not require one to be exceedingly knowledgeable to know most of Europe is a terrorist priority target. When they’ve set up no-go zones, they are inviting attacks like Brussels and Paris. Moreover, Europe has a mindset that “terrorism is one of those things you need to live with.” By the same token, here in America, we’ve become very complacent in mindset and approach.

    You may want to read this opinion piece, in which the writer says we are answering terrorism with fantasy:

    http://nypost.com/2016/03/22/even-after-brussels-the-west-is-answering-terror-with-fantasy/

    We have a president that is oblivious about what’s going on, and a candidate who is so full of bluster you wonder whether he truly understands the nature of the threat.

    Regarding my comment about being captured, being a POW, and SERE training, there are a few readers, conservative and liberal, who do not know what they are talking about. Though Aqua tried to set the record straight, it was like what he was trying to describe didn’t matter. SERE training allows the captured servicemember to better able to stay within the Code of Conduct, but moreover to know their own limits physically and mentally. The oft-cited example of the value of SERE is the McCain experience. When he was captured by the NVA, they knew from the very get-go who they had, and so the NVA exerted maximum pressure on him physically and mentally. The other prisoners knew the NVA aim was to break McCain. Leo Thorness, a fellow POW, said that they went full-bore on McCain with the stress positions, non-treatment of the physical injuries, and the mental aspects. Any person who says they wouldn’t break, says Thorness, simply does not know what they are talking about. My point, my dad’s point, would be do not presume to know when you don’t know the experience. We all have breaking points – it is a matter how much physical and mental force needs to be applied. Leo Thorness said he came close to his own breaking point on several occasions.

  16. 18

    David

    @Rich Wheeler #11 –

    Though very appreciative of your salute, no thanks is needed. My dad says he was doing his job and it was something that just happened.

  17. 19

    another vet

    @David:

    Though Aqua tried to set the record straight, it was like what he was trying to describe didn’t matter.

    That’s because he was trying to explain it to Greg who thinks he knows everything. Hell, if your dad were to come here and give his input, he would call “nonsense” on him too just like he did when you relayed your experiences about those Russian convoys. He is best ignored and left alone to babble to himself. Those of us who respect Aqua’s service and experiences took his comments as valuable input to the discussion.

    As for the Post article, he pretty much summed it up in the last sentence about how it will take a kaboom to wake people up. It took the kaboom of 9/11 to wake people up out of their 1990’s sleep regarding terrorism. Now that people have gone back to sleep (or are hiding in the closet), we are headed down the same path with the potential for an even bigger kaboom than before.

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