After months of abstract debate and vague denials, said The Washington Post in an editorial, we're finally getting a fuller picture of how the Bush administration interrogates suspected terrorists. With political pressure mounting to ban torture, CIA sources last week described six 'œenhanced interrogation techniques' to ABC News. These include 'œshaking or striking detainees in an effort to cause pain and fear,' and soaking prisoners in cold water and forcing them to stand naked and shivering in a 50-degree cell for hours. Then there is 'œwaterboarding,' whereby a prisoner is bound to an inclined board, his face wrapped in cellophane, while water is poured over him; within seconds, he begins gagging and is overcome by the terrifying sensation of drowning. CIA director Porter Goss insisted that all of the 'œunique and innovative ways' the U.S. collects 'œvital information' are perfectly legal and 'œnot torture.' This administration insists on playing 'œgames with words,' said David Luban in The Washington Post, but no one is being fooleI AM d. It's obvious to Americans, and to the world, that we've crossed the line into 'œcruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.'
The only remaining question, said Elisa Massimino in the Los Angeles Times, is why the Bush administration won't back off. The U.S. Senate, by a 90'“9 vote, has backed Sen. John McCain's amendment to bar American authorities from using degrading interrogation methods. But the White House is so instinctively opposed to any limits on the 'œpowers of the commander in chief' that it has vowed to veto the amendment. In a 'œcivilized society,' said The Boston Globe in an editorial, it 'œshould not be necessary' to ban torture. But with a vice president who insists we must be willing to go to 'œthe dark side' to fight terrorism, we have to spell out some limits in black and white.
Actually, that would be a mistake, said Charles Krauthammer in The Weekly Standard. In the global war on terror, black-and-white distinctions no longer apply. Terrorists live 'œoutside the laws of war,' wearing no uniform, hiding among civilians, targeting innocents. When we capture an al Qaida leader, our 'œmoral duty' is to find out what he may know 'œabout plans for future mass murder.' And this is not just some 'œhypothetical' ethics problem. After the U.S. captured 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan, aggressive interrogation techniques yielded intelligence that helped thwart other suicide hijackings. Waterboarding was particularly productive, with Khalid begging for a chance to confess after just two minutes. 'œShould we regret having done that? Should we abolish by law that practice, so that it could never be used on the next Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?'
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Yes—and here's why, said Rosa Brooks in the Los Angeles Times. For every drop of useful information torture produces, it can produce a flood of misinformation that can badly backfire. Consider the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al Libi. The alleged al Qaida official was captured in Pakistan in 2001 and taken to Egypt, where he was subjected to waterboarding. Eventually, he 'œconfessed' that Iraq had offered to supply and train al Qaida in chemical and biological warfare. That claim formed the centerpiece of Colin Powell's pivotal U.N. speech justifying the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Libi later recanted, and it now appears he 'œwas just desperate to stop the torture.' By allowing Libi to be tortured, U.S. officials made 'œa pact with the devil.' That bargain 'œhas not only cost us our national soul, but has contributed, indirectly but surely, to the loss of more than 2,100 American soldiers in Iraq.'
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