The CIA is having a
hard time keeping politics out of intelligence collection. The key issue here
is interrogation methods, and the belief that practices defined as torture are
barbaric and useless. "Opposition
to torture" has become something of a religious issue, and a vague one at
that. Pressure groups, both domestic and international, have seized on torture,
and its abolition, as a major issue. The problem is, there is no agreement on
what, exactly, torture is. To many anti-torture advocates, what goes on in
police interrogation rooms worldwide, every day, can be considered torture. The
effort to define torture gets mixed up with the efforts to outlaw torture.
Caught in the middle are intelligence organizations, which are sometimes in
situations where torture is the lesser of several evils. CIA officials recently
tried to point out that some techniques, that many want to outlaw, were
critical in obtaining life-saving information.
In the popular imagination, torture is
the application of pain, often to the point of death, in order to obtain
information from an unwilling subject. Torture has been around for thousands of
years, and during that time, a lot of mythology has grown up about it.
Basically torture is interrogation carried to extremes. The ultimate extreme is
killing the subject, which is usually avoided, at least until you get the
Advocates for the abolition of torture
believe that torture doesn't work. Obviously, it does work. Just check out the
history of espionage during World War II, or any other major conflict. Torture
was accepted, if not much talked about. Information was regularly extracted
from unwilling captives, and damage often done to the subject as a result.
Everyone used torture, even if there were regulations against it. To this day,
spies and soldiers are trained to deal with torture. It is acknowledged, in the
espionage world, that if one of your people is caught by someone who has
torture experts, your guy is likely to talk eventually. Thus there are often
provisions for suicide pills. At the very least, there is a "Plan B" for
situations where one of your people, who knows secrets, is taken alive. You
have to assume he will be tortured and some, or all, of those secrets
extracted. Critics of torture insist that information extracted like this is
not reliable. The historical record says otherwise, and intelligence agencies,
and the military, continue to plan accordingly.
In the war on terror, it was
understood, early on, that there might be situations where you had a captive
who possessed life-saving information, and you had to get that data, or lose a
lot of your own people. To the anti-torture crowd, that is not acceptable. They
believe, as an article of faith, that torture is never justified, and simply
doesn't work. How do you argue with this? You don't. You can't. It's a
religious argument, and you cannot dispute faith.
What the Department of Defense and
intelligence agencies want is to avoid is getting stuck with a set of rules so
restrictive that, when information must be obtained from someone, the
interrogators will have to accept the possibility of going to jail if they
attempt to get life saving information. That may be end up being the situation,
and torture will never be eliminated. But it is possible to issue rules and
regulations, if only to keep the media happy and silence the stridently