Is waterboarding really torture? Does it enhance our national security?

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial by Representative Pete Hoekstra, regarding Barack Obama’s decision to inform our enemies about the details of the interrogation techniques we would be using against them to protect America:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair got it right last week when he noted how easy it is to condemn the enhanced interrogation program “on a bright sunny day in April 2009.” Reactions to this former CIA program, which was used against senior al Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003, are demonstrating how little President Barack Obama and some Democratic members of Congress understand the dire threats to our nation.

George Tenet, who served as CIA director under Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, believes the enhanced interrogations program saved lives. He told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in April 2007: “I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.”

Last week, Mr. Blair made a similar statement in an internal memo to his staff when he wrote that “[h]igh value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country.”

Yet last week Mr. Obama overruled the advice of his CIA director, Leon Panetta, and four prior CIA directors by releasing the details of the enhanced interrogation program. Former CIA director Michael Hayden has stated clearly that declassifying the memos will make it more difficult for the CIA to defend the nation.

It was not necessary to release details of the enhanced interrogation techniques, because members of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

I previously wrote about how Obama had opened the door to prosecutions of those who, from the bottom to the top, defended the United States from terrorist threats. Even if no one is convicted, this witch-hunt undermines our vigilance, and will create incentives that will make our counter-terrorism personnel hesitate in the performance of their duty to defend us.

But now I want to ask a different question. Is waterboarding really torture? Take a look at this MSNBC video linked at Hot Air, featuring a debate between an ignorant, unqualified, left-wing journalist and Liz Cheney.

And here is some of the transcript from Hotline:

O’DONNELL: Well Liz, we’ll get to that argument in a minute, about do the means justify the ends. Whether torture justifies…

L. CHENEY: Well, it wasn’t torture, Norah, so that’s not the right way to lay out the argument.


L. CHENEY: Everything done in this program, as has been laid out and described before, are tactics that our own people go through in SEER training and that our own people have gone through for many years. So it’s really – does a fundamental disservice to those professionals who are conducting this very effective program and to those people who approved the program in order to keep this nation safe and prevent attacks through the program to call it torture.

O’DONNELL: Liz, the CIA, on its own after 2005, stopped waterboarding on its own. The U.S. prosecuted people for waterboarding after World War II.
So to suggest there’s a consensus out there that waterboarding is not torture is not in fact accurate.

L. CHENEY: No, I think it is accurate. There were three people who were waterboarded. And two of those people are people who gave us incredibly important and useful information, information that saved American lives after they were waterboarded. Both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah.

And I would just refer your viewers to the really important op-ed piece that Mike Hayden and Attorney General Mukasey wrote laying out why this program worked, why it was effective and what damage has now been done to our national security by releasing the tactics of this program

The impression I get is that the left-wingers in the Democrat party and the mainstream media is more concerned about the rights of terrorists than protecting American lives. They have a right to hold and express those opinions – it’s a free country. But should we really reward them by voting for them or watching their silly biased television broadcasts?

RELATED: Hot Air notes that a new Rasmussen poll finds that 58% think Obama endangered national security.

8 thoughts on “Is waterboarding really torture? Does it enhance our national security?”

  1. The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a very damning report, “Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody”. The report discusses the “treatment” (my sarcasm quotes), which was brutal enough to require medical personnel in attendance. Hold on a second, MEDICAL PERSONNEL!?!!. The report details the role of medical personnel before, during, and after episodes of interrogation: they monitored the prisoners’ vital signs and over-all stress as they were abused. The report further details the fact that the personnel would advise interrogators on the prisoner’s condition, whether to continue the abuse, moderate it, or suspend it for a time. The report states that this aid to interrogators VIOLATES STANDARD MEDICAL ETHICS. I quote, “any interrogation process that requires a health professional to either pronounce on the subject’s fitness to withstand such a procedure, or which requires a health professional to monitor the actual procedure, must have inherent health risks. . . . As such, the interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics.”

    Need more be said? No violation of the image of God present in all humans, even terrorists, is ever justified. Christians are called to love their enemies, not abuse them. I have no problem with the use of force to apprehend or incarcerate criminals, or in bringing criminals to justice. But I do have a problem with abusing them, for any reason. It is not an unreasonable position to hold; my forebears were Mennonites, who did not believe in just war, and suffered for their beliefs. So it is possible and justifieable, and correct to refuse to gain information by way of abuse (a.k.a. torture). Would we countenance the use of medical data obtained by the Nazi experimenters? I would be among those that say we should not, even though the torture of their victims is long past.


    Most people should be able to figure it out: If a doctor is needed during questioning, the means used in the questioning are morally suspect.


  2. Bravo, John. It is also worth noting that the US considered waterboarding to be a war crime when it was practiced by the Japanese against our soldiers during WWII.


  3. Just so that I don’t offend other Christians, let me add that the use of force is an issue on which Christians can and do differ, especially where lives may be at stake. You can see from my post that I start much further along the non-violent end of the spectrum than many. Note also that I used the word “suspect” rather than something more absolute like “reprehensible”. However, how do we evaluate how much force is at stake? I suggest that the need for medical personnel is a useful and legitimate criterion. I think this is particularly true when before any confession we don’t know whether the subject even knows anything useful, and given that it is documented that forced confessions are often inaccurate or made up. But if we knew beforehand that the subject had planted a bomb in a building, and that it was timed to go off, and he wasn’t telling us which building, what should we do then?



  4. There are some things that are intrinsically evil, things that we don’t do regardless of the potential benefits. Torture is one thing that is intrinsically evil. When the Red Cross finds waterboarding to be immoral, when waterboarding was prosecuted as torture in WWII, it is torture. When medical personnel have to be on standby, it is torture. Use of force to restrain, capture or imprison is not torture. Use of force that tries to break someone’s will, is inherently torture. It is torture not just because of the level of physical discomfort and the danger of physical injury or death, but because it uses that discomfort, and the attendant fear of death or injury, to break a person’s will. A free will is valued by Americans and God and protected by the Constitution. Waterboarding is not allowed on criminals in the criminal justice system–many of whom have done as bad or worse than the Gitmo prisoners–because it is torture and contrary to the Constitution.

    “In a time when the distinction between can and should has become increasingly blurred, and when fundamental moral norms are under unprecedented attack, the principle of intrinsic evil requires and deserves a staunch defense. The threat of utilitarianism is hardly new; after all, it was the calculating Caiaphas who asserted it was better for one man to die than the whole nation to perish. In the face of public demand for expediency and results—with little or no regard for what seem to be ethical niceties—the pressure of pragmatism can test the purest of consciences. At times the price for holding fast to these absolutes can be very high indeed. But ours is not to count the cost. For these moral norms are not our own; rather, they point always beyond us to a law that we did not invent, a law that we cannot change.” (B. Graebe, Catholic seminarian)


    1. I might agree with youif there were actually physical damage caused, but if there is not physical damage, and potentially thousands of lives are on the line, then I think the men and women of the CIA did right to protect American citizens by waterboarding three people.

      Let’s be specific, now. Do you know who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is? Do you understand that he is a known terrorist and that when we caught him he gave up plans for a 9/11-style attach on Los Angeles after about 30 seconds of waterboarding?


    2. I might agree with you if there were actually physical damage caused, but if there is not physical damage, and potentially thousands of lives are on the line, then I think the men and women of the CIA did right to protect American citizens by waterboarding three people.

      Let’s be specific, now. Do you know who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is? Do you understand that he is a known terrorist and that when we caught him he gave up plans for a 9/11-style attack on Los Angeles? Do you understand he confessed to being the architect of the 9/11 attack?

      Please read this left-wing BBC article on KSM and see whether it makes any difference to you.

      Also, if waterboarding is torture, why are we “torturing” our own forces as part of their training?


  5. WK’s arguments justify the torturing on the basis of a utilitarian ethic, an ethic to which I don’t subscribe and an ethic that I believe is not consistent with the ethics taught in the Bible. Since we have different ethical standards, further debate does not seem warranted. However, this topic is an important moral debate, and I hope that other bloggers commenting at this site will add their views.

    As to what constitutes torture, that is another important debate. WK does not respond to my assertions that the requirement for medical personnel evidences torture, nor to my assertion that physical abuse is torture even if there are no permanent injuries, nor to my assertion that physical and mental abuse directed at the breaking of the subjects will is torture.

    Since we do not have the released medical records of the victims, it is not possible to make accurate assertions about any injuries they may have sustained.




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