As commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, David Petraeus made his opposition to torture crystal clear. Which is why it came as a surprise when Petraeus, nominated to lead the CIA, asked Congress on Thursday to clarify how far interrogators can go in inflicting pain on detainees in “special cases.”
Petraeus referred to what’s known as the “ticking bomb scenario,” a hypothetical in which the agency has in custody a suspect who has knowledge of an imminent, catastrophic attack. “There should be a discussion of that by policymakers in Congress,” Petraeus told the Senate intelligence committee, where “more than, again, the normal techniques” would be used to pry intelligence out of the detainee.
But Petraeus simultaneously argued for the efficacy of “normal,” non-abusive interrogations. He expressed pride that in 2007, he ordered his troops to “live our values” in a letter about detainee treatment. “Humane” interrogation methods, he told the panel considering his nomination, “do work.”
The CIA has stepped back from terrorism interrogations after President Obama issued an executive orderin January 2009 banning torture. Like the military at Abu Ghraib, the CIA has been tarnished by carrying out a torture program at secret prisons during the Bush administration. A special prosecutor is reviewing that program and considering indictments against agency interrogators.
Petraeus said he wanted the interrogation rules clarified so that CIA interrogators aren’t once again put into legally dubious circumstances. “This can’t be something where we’re forcing low-level individuals to make a decision under extreme duress,” Petraeus said. “It has to be dealt with by folks on the Hill and, certainly, policymakers.”
He compared hypothetical authorizations for “special” interrogations to “the nuclear football kind of procedure,” a carefully choreographed, “thought through” method for extreme cases. Additionally, he urged Congress to take “the rear view mirrors off the bus, with respect to certain actions” — a reference to forgiving CIA interrogators who tortured detainees.
But Petraeus didn’t say why believed the issue needs to be revisited now. The executive order is clear: it bars interrogation methods beyond those used in the Army’s field manual on interrogations, which Petraeus defended. And experienced interrogators have argued that the “ticking bomb” case is largely a myth. Even if it exists, former Air Force interrogator Steve Kleinman testified to Congress in 2007, agents would just produce unreliable information by torturing detainees, failing to stop the hypothetical bomb from detonating.
Petraeus hardly reversed course and endorsed torture. But there are many Republicans in Congress who thought Obama made a big mistake by banning it. If Congress revisits the interrogation debate at Petraeus’ behest, torture might very well return to U.S. interrogations.
- Torture and war as a way of life a means to any end. (ikners.com)
- Will Petraeus Rein In the Drone War? (wired.com)
- Born in the CIA words and lyrics by Obama Charmer (ikners.com)
- Petraeus Backs ‘More Than the Normal’ Interrogations (newser.com)
- Leave the waterboard at home, use your eyes (ikners.com)
- McCain tears into Bush torture apologists (dailykos.com)
- Interrogation Experts From Every Branch of the Military and Intelligence Agree: Torture DOESN’T Produce Useful Information (ritholtz.com)
- Torture doesn’t produce useful evidence (waylon1776.wordpress.com)
- Hayden’s Straw Man Argument on “Interrogation Deniers” (thinkmarkets.wordpress.com)