Matt Yglesias, having contemplated a recent Rasmussen poll showing that 58% of Americans favor waterboarding the Underpants Bomber, has a question for America's "torture-loving conservative elites":
I would be interested to know how far the public—or how torture-loving conservative elites—would be willing to go on this. In a lot of ways terrorism cases strike me as unusually unpromising venues for torture. Something more banal like trying to get a low-level drug dealer to spill the beans on his supplier could really work. My view is that routinized deployment of brutality by government officials isn’t going to produce any systematic gains, so it doesn’t make sense to uncork this kind of treatment on Abdulmuttalab or Generic Drug Dealer X. But for torture enthusiasts is there anything special about terrorism suspects?
I don't know how seriously terrorist-coddling liberal elites take this question, but let me take a stab - terrorist attacks of the type seen in America tend to be rare and extremely damaging, so preventing them is extremely valuable. As to the value of "torturing" a drug dealer to name his supplier or intercept the next Big Shipment? Uhh, not to minimize the fine work being done by our Drug Warriors, but drug shipments are like streetcars - there will be another one along in a minute. For that matter, drug dealers are like - hmm, my Simile Smasher seems to be stuck - drug dealers are like streetcars, too.
America's torture-loving conservative elite supported a regime that used the waterboard three times on Al Qaeda operatives believed to be high level planners - that would hardly count as routine usage or support thereof. As to the other approved "enhanced interrogation techniques", well, call me a monster but I am still OK with the belly slap, the attention grab, the noogie, and some of the others.
Matt does offer some howlers in his explication of the ticking time bomb scenario vis a vis the UnderBomber:
The fact that Abdulmuttalab was on that plane, alone, with a not-very-impressive explosive stuffed down his pants is about the best proof you can think of that al-Qaeda doesn’t have a massive nuclear weapon hidden somewhere beneath Manhattan that they’re about to set off. The guy may or may not have some information that would be useful to intelligence officials, but he clearly doesn’t have specific information about imminent attacks. The idea being endorsed here is really just routinized use of torture as an investigatory technique.
First, it was the detonator that was not so impressive; the explosive was reportedly adequate to crash the plane over Detroit.
More importantly, the notion that Abdulmuttalab does not have useful intel that could be used to thwart an imminent attack is far from certain. Just for example, suppose he provided a tidbit about how he was moved through Yemen that allowed the Yemeni authorities to identify and pick up a key Al Qaeda operative who was well informed on Qaeda plans. That would be a lucky break of the sort that is also described as "making your own luck."
Or perhaps Abdulmuttalab could provide info that led to the bombmaker. Or perhaps he remembers his trainers saying things like "Wow, you are much more adept than the last three guys we trained." Even the intel service that ignored the warnings from Abdulmuttalab's father might consider that to be a useful clue that would aid in disrupting future plots.
Or (I am almost done conjugating possibilities) Abdulmuttalab might simply provide some tidbit that corroborates information from another source. That sort of thing has value in the intelligence world as well.
I suppose it depends on the meaning of "imminent", but as a terrorist-coddling liberal Matt seems to have defaulted to the position that Abdulmuttalab probably has nothing useful to say about any plots likely to come to fruition in the next few months, so let's speed things along by assuming he doesn't. This "Don't Ask, Don't Listen" approach to dealing with terrorists is not favored by the torture-loving conservative elites, who believe that the only stupid question is the one you don't ask.
My guess is that Abdulmuttalab would not have been a candidate for the waterboard under Darth Cheney. However, if Team Obama had put him into the military system as an enemy combatant he would not have been allowed to lawyer up, we wouldn't be reading about how his lawyer might agree to let him cooperate, and he would be subject to military style interrogation without a lawyer even if other enhanced techniques were not employed.
That suggests an interesting question - do terrorist-coddling liberal elites really believe that prisoners provide just as much (or as little) information whether we observe their rights under US criminal procedures or their rights as detainees of the US military? Do terrorist-coddling liberal elites really believe that all these Miranda warnings and provision of access to lawyers really doesn't encourage anyone to keep anyone quiet?Just wondering.