The debate over U.S. torture policy erupted yesterday on the Hill, in the wake of yesterday’s NYT blockbuster, highlighting secret legal opinions from the Bush administration, which endorsed “the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.”
The president’s aides fanned out to deny, defend, and spin the revelations, but for my money, the most impressive argument came by way of Frances Fragos Townsend.
White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend also dismissed objections to the CIA program yesterday, saying during an appearance on CNN that al-Qaeda members are trained to resist harsh interrogations. She said that “we start with the least harsh measures first” and stop the progression “if someone becomes cooperative.”
First, the notion of being trained to resist drownings has always seemed rather far-fetched. Unless al Qaeda has figured out a way to equip terrorists with gills, there isn’t much anyone can to prepare for waterboarding.
But it’s that second part that’s particularly noteworthy. As Townsend described it, on national television, the painful physical and psychological tactics, which are unlawful, are suspended when the detainees “becomes cooperative.” In other words, “We stop torturing when we get what we want out of the suspect.”
That’s not a defense for abuse; that’s insane.