William Hamilton Which is safer: Waterboarding or snowboarding?
May 5, 2009
Much is being written about four classified documents that were declassified by the Obama administration. The documents reveal CIA use of enhanced interrogation techniques.The documents themselves do not reveal any interrogation techniques not already known to the Islamic jihadists or, for that matter, to those of us who have endured military Escape and Evasion (E&E) courses designed to toughen our combat forces in advance of possible capture and interrogation. However, three elements of what Obama has done are truly regrettable: First, if those enhanced techniques are torture in our lexicon, then Islamic-jihadist instructors can tell their students that they have nothing to fear. Secondly, those currently serving on our side in dangerous covert assignments or, even in safe, counter-terrorism staff positions, may not want to do that anymore for a government that will, upon a change of political party affiliation, declassify what they are doing and then might prosecute them for doing what they were told to do. Thirdly, allied foreign intelligence agents (from whom we get much of what we know), may stop providing us with critical intelligence.In this on-going debate, a lot of shorts are being wrapped around a number of legal and moral axles. Should America, our shining-city-upon-a-hill, even speak harshly to those captives who used to be called (pre-Obama) enemy combatants? Thats a moral question. Is there a difference between captives who qualify as POWs under the Geneva Conventions and terrorists who do not belong to nation-states that are signatories to the Geneva Conventions? Thats a legal question. Then, there are practical questions: Does torture work? Some Hanoi Hilton alumni admit torture forced their compliance. But does it produce actionable intelligence? Sometimes, yes. If we dont employ harsh interrogation techniques will that prevent our own troops from being tortured? Only if you still believe in the tooth fairy.But, in the acutely painful, physically damaging sense of the word, is waterboarding truly torture? Understand there are different methods of waterboarding. The method used on Khalid Sheik Muhammad (KSM), the master mind of the Sept. 11 attacks and the decapitator of journalist Daniel Pearl, featured a prophylactic (no, not that kind) shield that prevented KSM from ingesting any water. He was in zero danger of drowning, but his mind was temporarily FUBARed (ancient military acronym).Warning: Do not try even proper waterboarding at home. Humans are born with three basic fears: falling, loud noises and drowning. Floating around in a sac of amniotic fluid for nine months may account for the fear of drowning. Subjected to waterboarding, KSM told his interrogators exactly how Sept. 11 was planned all of it later verified by walk-the-cat-back analysis.Then, there is waterboarding as practiced by non-U.S. interrogators. Nota bene: Your faithful observer actually eye-witnessed a non-U.S. waterboarding. In 1967, an Army buddy and I were walking through a mix of rice paddies and jungle when we came across a unit of the South Vietnamese National Police Field Force (NPFF). The NPFF had captured an enemy combatant. He was tied to the ground, face-up.Buckets of rice-paddy water were being poured onto his face. (That alone should qualify as germ warfare.) No prophylactic shield was in use. Obviously, the NPFF troops were either clueless about waterboarding or didnt care if their subject drowned. In fluent Vietnamese, my buddy ordered the NPFF troops to stop. The shocked NPFF interrogators stopped pouring water and jumped to attention. But they were probably even more shocked to see two U.S. Army officers wandering alone through the jungle, armed only with pistols. (That really was dumb.) Now, we come to a lethal form of boarding. As conservative pundit Ann Coulter reminds us: Only three terrorists who could have been shot were waterboarded. This is not nearly as bad as snowboarding, which is known to cause massive buttocks pain and results in approximately 10 deaths per year. William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today, studied at Harvards JFK School of Government. Dr. Hamilton, a former intelligence officer, is a member of the Association For Intelligence Officers (AFIO).
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