GOP Debate Analysis (11/28/07)

Ah, YouTube. These debates are always interesting because you never know what to expect. I’m still not sure if I like it or not. It’s like communism: an appealing theory on paper but once you put it in action, it’s a little disappointing.

Sure, Huckabee had a good night. He’s intelligent, he’s got a certain degree of charm. He probably would’ve made a better actor than Fred Thompson! But let’s face it: who wouldn’t do well if they were lobbed softball questions all night? The only difficult question he received was the “What would Jesus do?” when it comes to the death penalty. That’s a difficult but definitely loaded question. 

For the sake of being side-tracked, let me answer that in my own way: Romans 13:1-7. Verse four says “for he [ruler/governing authority] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant an of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” God struck people dead, folks. This “what would Jesus do?” nonsense when it comes to the death penalty is a faulty premise. And in case you weren’t aware: the federal government is not Jesus!

Huckabee answered it well with his “Jesus was too smart to be a politician” reponse. However, even though it was a very clever dodge to the question, it was still a dodge nonetheless. But since long and reasoned responses don’t make good soundbytes, the dodge works just as well.

Romney got tripped up on gays in the military, which was a direct torpedo from the Hillary campaign due to the fact that the questioner was working for her. While he did get tripped up, I must ask: who wouldn’t? On the big totem pole of Republican issues, gays in the military ranks pretty low. This was a swipe from the Hillary camp, which makes me think that Hillary’s people are afraid of Romney.

When it came to the immigration sparring match between Giuliani and Romney, Romney easily won. The “sanctuary mansion” comment from Giuliani was cheap and smart, but Romney’s explanation blew Rudy out of the water, especially when he pointed out that the illegal immigrants in New York had already broken the law by simply being illegal immigrants. In reference to illegals working for Romney’s lawn service, Romney asked Rudy if he was supposed to ask them if their workers were all legal. I can see Rudy right now: “excuse me sir, put down that weedeater and show me your green card!” Yeah right.

McCain was….good ole McCain. I have to say, he’s had consistent debate performances: he hasn’t gotten any better and he hasn’t gotten any worse. He went toe-to-toe with Romney on torture and waterboarding, a match that neither seemed to win. Both had well-reasoned positions but I agree with Romney’s more. Personally, I don’t see a problem with waterboarding. They tried it on a Fox News correspondent for crying out loud! Besides, if we know for certain that the enemy has information we need and they aren’t willing to give it, we should do whatever is necessary to save American lives, as long as we don’t do any permanent physical damage. However, I have to ask: is waterboarding specifically condemned by the Geneva Convention? If so, McCain has a valid point. If not, I say we have every right to do it.

I did agree with what McCain said to Ron Paul about his version of isolationism causing World War II. That was a good point and I’m glad somebody finally said it.

Thompson was a translucent figure on the stage. He didn’t really stand out or make waves as usual. He is such a dud when it comes to debates. It’s really sad. No wonder he put off joining the race as long as possible. Maybe he should’ve waited until late December before declaring his candidacy.

Ron Paul did say a few things that I agreed with. But this was not his strongest performance. The fact that he couldn’t name the Kurds to the North in Iraq is pretty sad. Even I could do that and I’m not a presidential candidate. I kept saying “Kurds, Ron, Kurds!” in my head, almost feeling sorry for him. It doesn’t matter, he won’t lose any supporters over it. But he definitely won’t gain any.

Duncan Hunter’s complaining about a gun being tossed to the guy in that gun question video was just a little bit lame. It was done for effect, Duncan! Yes, of course you should hand the gun over to somebody, but let’s face it: that just doesn’t look as cool as catching it. Obviously, the guy in the video didn’t look very bright for doing it that way, but it’s not a good idea to point that out to him on national television. I’ve said this before: Duncan Hunter should drop out of the race immediately. I agree with him on a lot of issues, but he’s just not pertinent to this race.

Tancredo is still irrelevant. I didn’t quite get his “out-Tancredo Tancredo” remark. Maybe he thinks that other people are copying him on immigration. Okay, Tom. Think about this: other candidates have platforms. And their platforms have planks in them. One of their planks is immigration. You, on the other hand, are just walking the plank.

When it comes down to real candidates in this race, Huckabee and Mitt had the best night; Rudy and Ron Paul had the worst night. I’m just wondering how this debate will affect the rest of the race.

19 Responses to GOP Debate Analysis (11/28/07)

  1. Gordy! says:

    I can’t believe you support water-boarding. I am actually disappointed with you.

  2. Braden says:

    Gordy, I’ve seen it done before. There’s a video out there of a guy from Fox News getting it done. It’s not that bad. It does not compare at all to what the Vietnamese did to our soldiers, which included things like putting bamboo shoots in fingernails, tying beehives to faces, electrocution, dragging them, through dirt and gravel, etc.

    Waterboarding induces fear and that’s it. It doesn’t cause any physical pain, harm or damage. If you’ve ever dunked someone in a pool, you’ve waterboarded someone and according to John McCain, you’ve violated the Geneva Convention. I personally don’t consider that torture.

  3. Jens says:

    So, where does “Do unto others as they would have them do unto you” come into the equation?

    My reading of Romans 13 is more akin to this article ( ). After all, Paul wasn’t advocating the Roman system was he? This passage is basically a warning to the faithful in Rome not to stick their neck out for risk of getting it cut off (unfortunately Paul wasn’t so lucky). He’s saying that the Roman laws need to be obeyed becuase that is the way it is (and it’s part of God’s plan). He is not saying that all worldly governments rules are just. After all, aren’t God’s laws supposed to be the Supreme Law of the Land?

    I find your justification for waterboarding based on this passage to be highly morally flawed. In order to come away with that interpretation you first must say that the laws of our government are just in the eye’s of God, despite nearly all of Jesus’ teachings about how we should treat others. Second, you must then say that becuase there is no specific law against waterboarding in the Geneva Convention we thus should waterboard with abandon. If God’s law is the supreme law of the land, and Jesus’ teachings (not the OT) are what we should be following then I think there it’s fairly clear that the Golden Rule would prohibit waterboarding. Especially since the Geneva Convention is not clear on the issue then we are not held to the law of the land and should thus follow God’s Laws. I’m not a believer but the morality question seems pretty cut and dried to me.

    I’m with Gordy on this one. We realy should be above needing to waterboard people. The real question in my mind though is that it has been shown time and again that the intelligence you drag out of people with physical abuse is most often faulty. Why do it if the intelligence you get is suspect? That kind of intelligence is what landed non-combatants in Guantanamo, leads to civilian houses being bombed, perpetuates “get even” intelligence where prisoners rat out innocents with whom they have a personal grudge, etc…

    Psychology is certainly a large part of elliciting intelligence from prisoners, but I draw the line at physically abusing them to illicit psychological reactions. We could probably do a better job if we had more people who spoke Arabic, Farsi and Urdu doing the interviewing. Unfortunately, we have very few soldiers able to do this and several have been fired due to their sexual orientation.

    My sister, a fluent Hindi and Urdu speaker and reader, (in demand for the War on terror in Pakistan as well as the India/Pakistan conflict) decided against a position at the CIA because of their attitude. Ivy League trained, Cum Laude level, fluent speakers are not a dime a dozen. Still, they failed to lure her in because she, being intelligent and moral, decided that waterboarding and extraordinary rendition were below her moral standard.

    Are we interested in keeping our integrity or are we more interested in dropping to the level of petty criminal. We cannot just look at this from the perspective of our intelligence needs, though they are the top prioty. The people who do the interviewing are either native speakers or highly trained Americans. Native speakers for the most part are not interested in demeaning, degrading, or abusing people from thier homeland (no matter their political position on the government there) and thus, our position on waterboarding will drive them away. Highly trained Americans tend to have a more refined moral compass and an increased perpective on the world. Our governments position on torture will tend to drive them away as well.

    This leaves us with alot of soldiers, who otherwise are very smart I’m sure, who can do nothing but abuse prisoners to gain information since they do not understand the subtlety of the language enough to use the psychological tricks needed to be a great interrogator. I think we’ve lost the war in trying to obtain trained interpretors and interrogators due to our policies. It will end up costing us if we decide to continue our occupation of Iraq and our involvment in Afganistan.

    Also, there is a big difference between a correspondent being waterboarded and a detainee. First, the detainee doesn’t speak the language, is in a hostile environment, and does not know whether he will untimately survive his incarceration. He may not even know whether his family know’s he is gone. A news correspondent will always know that he will come out unscathed. Why? Because he knows that if the military drowns him the shit will hit the fan, thus, he will untimately be safe. He also speaks the language and thus knows what is happening around him.

    A detainee most likely doesn’t know the language, doesn’t know what is happening to him, and doesn’t know he will survive (he knows that if he dies there is a possibility know one will know, especially in other countries and in Iraqi prisons where records can easiily be expunged or denied since many detainees don’t have good identification). For this reason waterboarding would be a much different experience for a detainee than for a FOX news correspondent who is guaranteed to go home to his wife and children afterwards, no matter what kind of verbal abuse he is subjected to during that time on the waterboard.

  4. Jens says:

    Also, how is it that one can argue FOR waterboarding agianst someone who endured the worst torture the North Vietnamese could dole out and yet still argues AGAINST waterboarding?

    Who better to determine the moral line past which interrogation becomes torture than someone who knows it personally and carries the evidence on his body to this day?

    I may be wrong but I would doubt that you, or many other proponents of waterboarding, have spent time in the Gulag, Hanoi Hilton, Kmer Rouge Tuol Sleng, or Auschwitz. Who are we to argue with someone who has first hand knowledge of what torture is and what it can do to a person mentally and physically?

    I personally would gladly cede the descision to those who know first hand what torture is. They are much better prepared to draw that moral line than those who spent their childhood “dunking someone in the pool” on a hot summer day.

  5. Braden says:

    Paul wasn’t advocating everything the Romans were doing. However, he did acknowledge his own Roman citizenship, something he probably wouldn’t have done if he was completely opposed to their system of government.

    In Romans 13, Paul is saying that the government has a right to punish those who do evil, and we as Christians should respect that. We are not under a “Christian” government, are we? This isn’t a theocracy. God’s law isn’t the law of the land. Civil government is the law of the land. They are two completely different entities. If God’s law were the law of the land, abortion wouldn’t be legal. God’s law only applies to Christians. While the golden rule you refer to certainly comes into play when it comes to how Christians treat our enemies, the government is its own entity and as Paul says, they “do not bear the sword in vain.”

    Paul is saying that the government has a duty to maintain order and establish justice. If Christianity was government, then no crime would be punished by law. Is that what we should advocate? That would be anarchy.

    As far as waterboarding goes, I wouldn’t personally waterboard someone against their will. But I believe that our government has a right to protect their people. Our military kills enemy combatants like this everyday in war, would you rather us do that or simply pretend to drown them without doing them any permanent physical harm? By the way, I never attempted to justify waterboarding on the basis of Romans 13.

    It is my understanding that with your stance on waterboarding, if your family was in immediate danger and there was someone with information that could keep them from certain death, you would not try to use whatever means possible to find that information. That’s not my personal stance, but in order for your position to be consistent, I’m afraid it may be yours.

  6. Braden says:

    Jens, was John McCain waterboarded? If so, please let me know. Yes I respect McCain’s military service and his time as a POW. His perspective is very valid and I appreciate that, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything he says.

    Besides, the tortures that happened in Hanoi, Auschwitz, and the Gulag don’t compare to waterboarding. I’m sorry, it’s just not the same.

  7. Jens says:

    As for your comment above about family I think you oversimplify the issue. If it was my family and I was face to face with that person than I would make the decision. That is very different from advocating that others (the government) should apply physical abuse as a general practice. I am freely willing to admit that I might use force, yet I am also willing to admit that that act might not be justified or result in good intelligence to save my family. Still, the choice would be mine and the results mine to bear. This is a far different than asking a group of many people to make that decision when the organization is contructed to diffuse the blame for the actions.

    We know from various social experiments that people can be very cruel in a gorup setting and apply torture when it isn’t necessary. This is due to diffusion of blame (you can say you were ordered too). Reducing the complexity to me and my family thus makes no sense because in that case I alone share the blame and the fallout of the decision.

  8. Jens says:

    As for your next comment you play directly to my point.

    No he was not waterboarded.

    Yes, I agree, it isn’t the same as the abuse at those storied torture chambers of the past.

    The point is not whether the abuse is equal to the worst attrocities ever committed, that is a slippery slope argument that leads nowhere (comparing bad to worse doesn’t get us anywhere). The point is that there is a moral line. Who better to determine that than those who have survived torture? Obviously you don’t think that those who have survived torture are best suited to understand what is and is not torture, can you elaborate as to why that would be?

    I find it funny and endlessly hypocritical that you state:

    “I would never waterboard someone against their will.”

    Still, despite your statement, you would advocate that others do that for you? That smacks of a precursor to the “Nuremburg Defense”. You are in effect practicing pre-distribution of blame. If you can’t make a moral argument to justify it for yourself than what is your justification that others do your dirty work?

    This is a moral question correct? So how is it moral to ask the government to do it, yet you would never personally do it yourself? I’m floored that you would make that statement.

    Also: The family example assumes that every time someone is waterboarded at Gitmo or by the CIA that American lives are immenently at risk. I have some sympathy for the “last ditch effort” argument. If the 9/11 plotters were in the air headed for the towers and I had Moussaoui in a jail cell I would have no problem (personally) beating a confession out of him if possible (it isn’t moral, but I’m not a perfect person either, at least I know myself enough to admit that I probably would do it). The fact is that this probably would happen anyway in a crisis situation.

    Ironically last minute connfessions would most likely be of poor quality since the prisoner knows he only has to endure for a short period before the terroist act occurs. Similarly, what makes anyone think someone who supports suicide missions would think twice about death. Most of these folks would happily die before giving away a secret, they welcome death so scaring them with the prospect of it (which is the whole point of waterboarding, would do no good.

    The majority of waterboarding at Gitmo is not done under this pressure of immenent calamity, it is done to get reticent prisoners to talk. So, in reality the question you raise is relevant and I even agree with you (while still feeling that the act itself would be immoral I think it would be justified). The facts on the ground however show that it is a different moral argument since there is most often no risk of immenent death for troops or citizens.

  9. Braden says:

    Let me say this before if I have not said it already: I am not the United States Government. I don’t work for the CIA, the FBI, or any branch of the Armed Forces. I have no right as a PRIVATE CITIZEN to waterboard someone.

    If you believe in the death penalty, as I do, then you believe that the GOVERNMENT has the right to KILL someone against their will as a PUNISHMENT of wrongdoing. I have no personal right as a private citizen to kill someone, but I believe the government does in order to maintain justice and order.

    I would not waterboard someone because I am not the legal system. Why is that hypocritical? Am I hypocrite because I as a private citizen cannot carry out the actions of a government? Your logic makes no sense.

    I will grant you that it might (just might) be better to search for alternative means of acquiring information like truth serum or other means. But for the time being, I see no problem with the GOVERNMENT employing waterboarding as a means to extract information if it is performed on an enemy combatant or convicted criminal.

    In Vietnam, a common interogation that the U.S. employed was to take 3 enemy POW’s up in a helicopter, push 2 of them out, and the third would usually talk. Waterboarding just doesn’t compare. It’s a fear-inducing procedure that causes no physical damage.

    Remember, I am not the United States government. As a private citizen, I cannot perform its duties.

  10. Jens says:

    You miss the moral point entirely with your statements.

    If you were an agent of the government or otherwise authorized to perform waterboarding would you perform it on another human being? Would you push another human being out of a helicopter to get someone to talk?

    You are shirking the reponsibility of detirmining the moral line. That moral line is drawn by whether you, yourself, would perform the act on another human being.

    Without that your statement of “I would never waterboard someone agianst thier will” is a complete non-sequitor. It not only misses the point it doesn’t even enter the discussion.

    I hold no lofty ideals for the past work of the US military and intelligence community. The School of the Americas, Pheonix program, and others show we have not necessarily held the moral high ground in the past regarding torture. I have a hard time believing, however, that soldiers regularly pushed POW’s out of flying helicopters. If you can cite a source I would be interested to read it.

    From your statements its obvious you don’t know much about how interrogation works. The third prisoner will most likely talk if you push the other two out of a helicopter. The problem is that they will say anything to spare themselves. Inducing fear is not the best way to extract information because you cannot rely on the trustworthyness of the info. People staring death in the face, or people who think they are staring death in the face on a waterboard, will say anything and make up any story to satisfy thier “interrogators”.

    Take a look at this story ( It’s pretty obvious from the quote that even the soldiers working as part of the pheonix program knew it wasn’t really effective at finding the true Viet Cong operatives. It’s real effectiveness was the ruthlessness by which the revenge was exacted (including cutting off ears as bounty trophies).

    What makes you think that there is a difference in the level of fear for their life that a hooded vietnamese man would feel in ratting out his Viet Cong brothers (even if he didn’t know any) as a combatant would feel on a waterboard? In the case of the waterboard the detainee actually is afraid for their life (even though he will untimately survive he doesn’t know that). In many ways the hooded vietnamese man is in less of a fear inducing position than a man on a waterboard, yet his information was also very poor. What makes you think that information extracted using waterboarding would be of any greater quality?

  11. Braden says:

    How many times must I tell you? I am not the United States Government.

    The United States government has the legal right to kill someone that is convicted of a crime. Do they not?

    What I am trying to get across to you is that I do not have the legal authority to waterboard someone. Just like I don’t have the legal authority to kill someone.

    You’re operating under the idea that there is no civil law and everything is based on a person’s moral line. I’m beginning to wonder if you even believe in the authority or even the existence of the government. Let’s just say for the sake of argument, that I am in your ideological anarchy of a society that is based on individual moral lines, in that case, it would basically go back to the question you dodged earlier: what would you do if your family was in danger and you had exhausted all other alternatives for extracting information?

    Would I push another human being out of a helicopter? That’s probably the silliest question you’ve ever asked me. No I would not. I was using that as an example of something the military has done in the past to show the comparison between that and waterboarding.

    I’m glad you are an expert interrogator and you know exactly what does and does not work when it comes to extracting information from enemy combatants. What are your credentials? Tell me, what is the best method for extracting information? I’d love to know. And why isn’t the government already using it? How effective is it? How often does it work?

    To me, it sounds like you don’t want our government to do its job in enforcing the law and protecting its people so they could leave everyone to their own moral devices.

    For the record, I hope I am never faced with the moral decision to kill someone or waterboard someone when it comes to self-defense or the defense of my friends and family. I would do whatever is possible to avoid such drastic measures. But I suppose I have the right to dodge my answer to that question like you did.

  12. Jens says:

    So what I get out of your statement is this.

    *The government has the legal right to waterboard (I agree with you)

    *You personally would not waterboard someone since you do not have the legal right (that’s good, I’m glad, but it misses my point)

    My question, in it’s most basic form is best summed up in this hypothetical set of questions:

    *If you were a soldier or CIA agent tasked with waterboarding someone would you do it?
    *If you waterboarded someone would you consider it to be moral in relation to your personal beliefs?
    *Do you believe that in a democracy your values and beliefs should be reflected (as much as earthly possible) in the laws and actions of your government?

    I’m not concerened with the legality of waterboarding I’m concerned with the MORALITY of it. Attny Gen. Gonzalez has done a great job talking to the legality of waterboarding but to me morals must underpin the law or the law will become corrupt.

    I am not an anarchist I believe in the law and our government. I believe the government can do it’s job of protecting us without waterboarding.

    Can you answer those three questions above?

  13. Braden says:


    If I were a solider or CIA agent given the task of waterboarding someone, yes I would do it as my job if I knew for a fact the individual was guilty and in fact had knowledge that could save American lives.

    I’m not quite sure I understand the second question. Would it be moral as my job? I suppose following orders would be moral. Would I have a guilty conscience for doing my job, knowing that doing so would save innocent lives? No, I don’t think I would.

    The third question is a bit of a non-sequitor. My individual values can’t be forced on an entire government because in a democracy, majority rules. But, do I believe that our country as a democracy should reflect the collective moral principles and values of its people? Yes, absolutely.

    I’m beginning to understand where you’re coming from. But what our government has a legal right and a duty to do is protect its people and establish justice and order.

    Coming full-circle, did Paul approve of everything the Roman government did? No. I don’t necessarily approve of everything our government does either. As far as waterboarding, I’d say that I am glad I’m not in a position where I don’t have to do it. Just like I’m glad I’m not in the military so I’m not faced with the decision of kill or be killed in combat situations. But I respect the work they do because they are protecting our freedom, just like Paul respected the Roman government for establishing justice and civility.

    In all sincerity, I would like to know what methods could be used to extract information without waterboarding. If there were other ways of doing it, I think that’d be great. But considering what torture has meant in the Holocaust, the Spanish Inquisition, and other times in history, I just don’t see how waterboarding even scratches the surface since it doesn’t physically harm someone.

    I think we agree that the maximum “damage” and intention of waterboarding is to induce fear. What about jumping in front of someone and yelling “Boo!” in order to scare them? I know to you that probably doesn’t even compare, but where do we draw the line? It’s not okay to waterboard, but it’s okay to induce fear in other ways? Or is it?

  14. Jens says:

    To your last point, I think that where the line should be drawn is no inducing fear. If that were the case we’d outlaw halloween and scary movies. The line should be drawn at creating a “fear of death”. After all, death itself is not all that scary. Once your dead it doesn’t hurt, your just dead and it doesn’t matter anymore. It is the creation of that fear that matters.

    It doesn’t really matter how you create that fear. Bear with me on these 3 examples. they are long, but hopefully entertaining:

    Imagine the fear induced by a mob of skinheads appearing at a black mans doorstep with a noose in hand. They do not even need to touch him to induce fear of death because he knows what it means. Were they to blindfold him, bring him to a tree, put the noose around his neck, and stand him on a chair.

    Imagine that the mob asks him for information on which of his black friends shot a white man in the town. Rumor has it that he might shoot another that night. “When did it happen?”, “When will he do it again?”, “How can we find him before he does it again?” He doesn’t know or won’t say, and so they threaten to kick the chair out from under him if he doesn’t answer again. He doesn’t answer the second time so they kick the chair from underneath his legs.

    However, what if the rope was just draped over the tree limb, not tied? The man would have gone through all of the fear of death up to the point of death, yet he would have been unharmed.

    In this country the skinheads would be tried for a felony with added sentence for a hate crime. Our moral code, informed mostly by Judeo-Christian values, states that this crime is beyond the pale and will not be tolerated in our society.

    Now imagine the same situation, however the man is met at the door by the police. They bring him downtown and put him in an interrogation room. He is found to be an illegal alien from the Carribean as well as a convicted criminal. He is on the run for multiple felony counts including armed robbery, murder, attempted murder and aiding and abetting rape, possibly in conjuntion with the man they are trying to find.

    The police are certain that the man they are trying to find will set off a nitrate fertilizer bomb in a crowded area before the night is out in retaliation for a grudge he holds against the government. They begin asking him questions, “Where is he?”, “When will he kill again”, “How can we stop him?”. The man does not answer, either because he doesn’t know or doesn’t want to say.

    The police try every tactic they know to extract information from him. They try befreinding him (a very good tactic), they try good cop/bad cop, they try baiting him, they try luring him with things only they have knowledge of, they try attempting to bargain by reducing his sentence for the crimes h has committed, they try threatening his friends with death or arrest, they try threatening his family. Nothing works and only hours remain before the bomb will explode.

    Finally a detective outside the room bursts in with his service pistol drawn, shoves the man to the ground, and pushes the muzzle into his temple. He shouts, “I know you have information and if you don’t tell me I’ll kill you.” He then proceeds to fire a warning shot into the floor near the mans head before asking again. When the man doesn’t answer he pulls the trigger.

    Unbeknownst to the man the officer had loaded only 1 bullet in the chamber and disabled the lockback mechanism of the slide in his Glock 9mm, making it appear that another shell was loaded into the chamber after the warning shot was fired (Usually the slide of an automatic locks back after the last shell is fired).

    In our country the officers involved would be fired and charged with multiple felony crimes. Our Judeo-Christian values have led us to create laws which prohibit this type of prisoner abuse based on it’s cruelty.

    Now imagine a detainee in Gitmo. An MP appears at his cell door in the middle of the night, shackles him, and leads him to a small windowless room. He is a Saudi national and was caught in Afganistan at the beginning of the Afgan with an AK-47 at his side as the US military overtook an islamic school. An Afgan, one of 50 apprehended in that building, said “the tall Saudi is a member of Al Queda and has talked of training with Bin Laden” during a session of heavy interrogation in the immediate aftermath of the battle. The detainee has repeatedly denied being a member of Al Queda and states that he was at the school to learn Islam and took up arms in a foolhardy attempt to protect his friends and beloved school.

    As he is led into the room and shackled to the waterboarding apparatus the seargeant begins yelling at him. An interpreter tells him that the Americans now know of a plot to detonate a bomb made of nitrate fertilizer in the downtown financial centers of an unknown American city. The bombs will explode sometime that day.

    They tell him that they know that the mastermind was a member of the Islamic School he attended, and was a student during some of the same years that he attended. They also know from documents seized at the school (they do not know to whom they belonged) that the plot had been hatched prior to when the school was taken by the military at the beginnning of the Afghan war.

    All the while the seargeant is screaming at him and the MP’s glare and unbutton their pistol holsters when he looks at them. The interpreter angrily states that if he does not comly they will put his head underwater. They also state that they will keep doing it until he talks. Finally the interpreter states that unless he tells them details of the plot, how it will be carried out, where it will be carried out, etc… they will increase the time he spends under water until he drowns. The interpreter says, “We have 5 other people we know have information, if you die we know one of them will talk. You are expendable.”

    He does not talk so they waterboard him again and again, each time asking him for information and each time he is not forthcoming. He is barely able to stand the dunkings and knows he is losing strength and any of the dunkings could be his last. The time the CIA has pegged for the bombing is within hours and they are getting very worried. After the 20th dunking the prisoner is being dunked for over 2 minutes at a time, an extremely long time for an untrained human to survive underwater.

    The interpreter punches him hard in the gut, knocking the wind from his lungs, and yells in Arabic, “You Arab scum! I’m finished! If you don’t talk before I reach the door the MP will put you under until you are dead. We don’t need you anyway…”. The interpreter walks toward the door and the MP readies the apparatus for one more dunk…


    In which of these examples is a moral line crossed between coersion and torture, if any?

    If you were the interrogator in each instance which, if any, situation would feel was justified and moral?

    For me all of them cross the line. Notice that the crime about to be committed in #2 adn #3 are teh same, the difference is the location and crimes of the defendent. In the case of #2 th alleged criminal has been charged with much more heinous crimes than the detainee has in #3, yet they both recieve similar treatment. In one case it is legal and in the other it is not.

    I see the moral and ethical line being drawn at, “Fear of Death”.

    Where would you draw the line?

  15. Braden says:

    Interesting stories. However, they are all are based around incidental circumstances that aren’t relevant to the discussion at hand. And since such is the case, your questions are misleading and virtually unanswerable.

    I’d say a moral line has been crossed or a procedural error has been made in each of the situations you mentioned, but the infraction doesn’t necessarily involve the mistreatment of the victim.

    I have no problem with inducing the fear of death in a detainee. Anything beyond that (physical permanent damage, etc.) is unacceptable.

  16. Jens says:

    There! We’ve now gotten to the base of the moral disagreement between us. It sounds like we will just have to agree to disagree since we find a different moral line in the sand on the issue. You believe that in all the situations (regardless of whether the introgator should have done it procedurally) inducing the fear of death is OK. I don’t.

    You are correct, the stories are incidental and hypothetical, however they do help to illustrate the range of the moral dilemna. Here is a quote from the FAQ of the Harvard MST test that begins to explain the rationale for the use of hypothetical questions to determine morality of certain situations:

    “At first it may seem odd to test real-world moral intuitions with hypothetical examples, especially since the hypotheticals sometimes make unrealistic assumptions. But research in the biological and social sciences has revealed that unrealistic situations sometimes yield the best insights into real-world phenomena. For instance, humans have strong grammatical intuitions about nonsense sentences and strong visual intuitions about impossible optical illusions. The MST is exploring analogous intuitions about moral situations.”

    You might find it interesting to read more about this type of research. The webpage for the Moral Sense Test (MST) and the explanation of the research is here (

    Discover Magazine had a good article on the guy who wrote the test and his belief in a very basic innate morality. I’m not sure I agree with his rationale, he’s a bit out there, but his methods and results are really interesting.

    In particular his use of hypothetical questions in which the result is the same yet the moral answers are different. In some of these cases everyone, regardless of religion, gender, age, education answers the questions the same way. These quesitions are very similar to the ones I just posed, however mine were not quite so basic so we ended up with differnet answers. The discover article is here (

  17. Jens says:

    I am interested in ansking you one more question. I don’t really want to debate the answer, since we disagree an all, but I am interested in your answer because I don’t understand how it fits together for you.

    You have mentioned that you are glad you are not to be a soldier or CIA agent tasked with waterboarding people. You have also stated that if you were a soldier or CIA agent ordered to do it you would not have a guilty conscience after doing it.

    How do you square that?

    On one hand it appears that you would find it repugnnat to have to do it, and thus are glad you don’t have to. On the other you say that you would not feel bad about having done it if you were ordered to. It reminds me of the dilemna of the executioner, noone wnats to be the one to flip the switch, yet someone has to do it. People are just glad it isn’t them. Is it that the act itself is repulsive yet you feel it needs to be done (sortof like how noone wants to take out the stinky trash, but someone has to do it) or is it that you would find it hard to degrade another human and thus don’t want to be the one responsible?

    I’m interested in your response but I won’t press the point futher.

  18. Braden says:

    I’d say it’s very much like taking out the stinky trash, cleaning up dog poop, disciplining children, etc. These are all things that no one SHOULD take pleasure in, but they must be done nonetheless in order to serve the greater good.

    There are all sorts of ugly and disgusting things that have to be done for the greater good such as amputating limbs if someone has gangrene. But like that specific example, all other means must be exhausted beforehand and if necessary, a last resort must be employed. Also, just like amputating limbs, there should always be the hope that a better method can be found in order to best address the situation at hand.

  19. Jens says:

    Given that you say that waterboarding can produce good intelligence and that it should be done because you are not convinced that there are any techniques that are better I thought you might be interested to read this. Of course he doesn’t name them, I’m sure that is classified, but given his experience I’m willing to take him at his word.

    “I’d bar waterboarding because there are better techniques.” Malcolm Nance,
    20 year military experience, Master SERE instructor for NAVY, expert in waterboarding training, has read and used classified info such as John McCains debriefings to help write the SERE manual. (CNN transcript, interview is about halfway down the page) (Malcom Nances essay on waterboarding adn a link to his profile which explains his extensive background in intelligence gathering, Arabic translation, waterboarding, and SERE training with the military)

    If someone with that much expereince is on the record as saying that it is torture and that there are better techniques what evidence do you have that we should be doing this and that it is a good way to extract useful intelligence?

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