Interrogation: torture vs. competence

How come the wingnuts who are so hot for “enhanced interrogation” don’t seem to give a rat’s behind about the deficiencies (linguistic and other) in the interrogator corps: deficiencies which the Bush Administration has done nothing to remedy? Could it possibly be that their interest is in cruelty rather than in acquiring information? Just asking.

The Bush Administration, which claims that interrogating “war on terror” captives is so vital that the United States should do to them things we’ve always called torture when done by our enemies, hasn’t bothered to recruit and train an elite corps of expert interrogators.

No surprise here. Is there some part of “Worst. Administration. Ever” I need to explain more slowly?

What’s truly spectacular about these guys is their enormous unseriousness even about their signature issues and initiatives. Having bet their own political futures and the country’s standing in the world on a good outcome in Iraq, they couldn’t be bothered to devote the attention and make the hard choices to achieve that outcome: the “stuff happens” mentality.

Democrats should stop getting the vapors every time a Republican accuses them of being “soft on terror,” and stop whining about how mean and divisive the Republicans are being (though indeed Bush’s preference for political point-scoring over national unity is indeed one example of his unseriousness about fighting the GWOT). Instead, they should point out in detail how the total fecklessness of the Bush Administration has made the country less safe.

As far as I can see, none of the right-wing pundits in the anti-anti-torture camp has bothered to notice the NYT story, or the several-month-old Intelligence Science Board report on which it was based, or to call for action on the problem of finding and training the right sort of interrogators. Nor is it likely that any reporter is going to ask Rudy Giuliani, who is trying to make terrorism his signature issue, what sort of plans he has to deal with the deficiencies of our interrogators.

Given a choice between an interrogator who’s done his homework and speaks the captive’s language and one who has access to the waterboard and other means of “enhanced interrogation,” I’d put my money on the guy who knows what he’s doing to get the information. So, apparently, would the experts at the Intelligence Science Board. The obvious inference about someone who’s very intent on allowing “enhanced interrogation methods” but indifferent to the bread-and-butter issues about interrogation is that, for that person, cruelty itself is a feature, not a bug.

Tom Maguire had his tender feelings hurt when I referred to the Republican torture cheerleaders and the voters to whose diseased emotions they pander to as “cowardly sado-fascists,” but if a love of cruelty for its own sake isn’t sadism, then what would you call it?

h/t Brad Plumer

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com