More Ticking Time Bombs
I think we know now that we sold our national soul for nothing, that torture did not work and that the victims provided missinformation to make the pain stop. I know the debate continues, but so does the debate about evolution by natural selection.
I want to shift to a hypothetical. Can anyone imagine how torturing al Qaeda terrorists could have helped the US government prevent a terrorist attack ?
Now I understand that the screnwriters for 24 address this issue quite often, but
1) I don't watch the show so I don't know their ideas or whether they are credible
2) They don't deal with the reality of al Qaeda. Importantly there is no evidence that al Qaeda has penetration agents, moles, spies or such like. Nor are there time bombs with timers that last days.
Then more specifically, if someone manages that to their satisfaction, how can changing the approach to interrogating Abu Zubaida after months prevent an attack. I would require al Qaeda to stick to a months old plot even though someone who knew about it had been captured.
A correspondent of Matthew Yglesias notes that one could get his ATM card's PIN number by torturing him.
This is true, but not relevant to the debate about investigating torture (so much better to type that than "the torture debate" roughly in the way that dissentary is better than Cholera).
I think the key point about the PIN number is that a claim that my PIN number is 98769 can be quickly checked and proven false if you have the ATM card (I typed the number at random so don't try to steal my ATM card to check).
Now if the card had been destroyed, it would be easy to get my PIN number (who cares anymore -- my bank asigns a new number when it replaces cards). But if that specific information mattered for some reason, I could lie.
The fact that a target will be attacked in a month is specific, but it can't be checked for a month.
Torture can make me talk, but it can only make me talk if the torturer can quickly find out if I lie.
Another key aspect of my PIN number is that my card can't change its PIN number, because it knows I have been captured and might talk.
I don't know how al Qaeda works (really honestly couldn't tell you if you tortured me) but secretive organisations typically act on the assumption that captured people talk -- not because they do but to be on the safe side.
It is hard to imagine how a terrorist attack could be prevented by a new approach to interrogation of someone who had been held for months.