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Coffee vs. torture
February 14, 2008
The FBI gathered key intelligence from Khalid Sheik Mohammed and five other Guantanamo Bay detainees facing military trial by using noncoercive interrogation methods, like an endless supply of Starbucks coffee. The FBI said its “clean team” of interrogators built trust with the prisoners by giving them food and coffee whenever they requested it. Five of the six men had already been interrogated by the CIA using harsh methods, and the friendlier FBI techniques were motivated by a need to get cleaner evidence that could be used in court. Still, “it obviously would have been even easier if they had done it this way from the beginning,” said Wake Forest law professor Robert Chesney. “There is the question of lingering taint.” (The Washington Post, free registration)
What the commentators said
Wait, “there’s a Starbucks at Guantanamo?” said Mike Nizza in The New York Times’ The Lede blog. Yes, it turns out, and there’s also a Pizza Hut, a Subway, a big-box store, and a gift shop. But of course the “more newsworthy” question is this: If the FBI didn’t have to use “harsh interrogation methods” to obtain testimony, why “did the CIA have to use them?”
The CIA didn’t have to, and it seems a backward way to fight “a war for Muslim hearts and minds,” said Spencer Ackerman in The Washington Independent. Especially when “we could have offered them a cup of coffee for the same—and probably better—effect.” The information we’ve gotten from torturing other suspects has so far included lies about Saddam Hussien giving chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda, so we would be better off sticking with coffee—at least until we “need someone to tell us that Iran is up to no good.”
We’ll see what evidence flies at trial, said Andrew McCarthy in National Review Online. There are lots of question marks surrounding the military tribunals, but luckily we’re not treating “Sheikh Mohammed and his five fellow savages” as civilian “criminal defendants”—that could provide them with a “banquet of intelligence” that they could share with their attack-plotting "confederates." We should treat “the enemy as the enemy,” not like we’d “treat an accused tax cheat.”
The six “alleged terrorists” are unquestionably “bad actors,” said Mark Silva in the Chicago Tribune’s The Swamp blog. But aside from the question of which method is more effective—interrogation by “waterboarding” or interrogation by “the $2-a-cup bold stuff”—we also have to straighten out the legal difference. As the trial unfolds, “we will watch with interest to see which evidence was won on the waterboard, and which was corraled with a Cafe Latte.”
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