Thursday, October 4, 2007

On the effectiveness of torture

I watched Bush's Homeland Security advisor Frances Townsend on Wolf Blitzer tonight getting grilled about the NYT report on torture. One of the most frustrating interviews I've ever seen; the number of non-denial denials was astounding, as was the self-righteousness. I couldn't help wondering about how a party founded on concepts of individual liberty and strict constitutionalism could have strayed so far.

Perhaps the most incredulous thing she said, though, was that only 30 or so of the "most dangerous" detainees have been subjected to the "harshest" interrogation methods. Despite this, she claimed that those same 30 prisoners had yielded 8500 intelligence reports. This means that on average each of these 30 prisoners gabbed about nearly 300 separate topics of interest to the GWOT, presumably under several months of "harsh" interrogation (and she did suggest that these interrogations got progressively worse over the course of a fairly lengthy period of time). For one person to have and provide that much information on that many closely related topics over that length of time, and be honest about it, seems to me a bit...implausible, and suggests something short of truthfulness on the detainee's part.

Not surprisingly, she did not give any figures as to how many of these reports were eventually corroborated, much less led to further detentions or convictions. I think it's safe to say, though, that her silence on that issue means that the number of corroborated reports is insignificant. To me, a lack of corroborated reports means that either: 1. The detainees were simply saying whatever they thought their interrogators wanted to hear in order to put an end to the "harsh" interrogation/torture; 2. The detainees had no intention of telling their interrogators what they actually knew - no matter what the consequences - out of hatred for their interrogators; or 3. Both 1 and 2.

Either way, the point is that not only does torture betray everything that this country is supposed to stand for, but that it is also completely ineffective. Indeed, it is actually counterproductive because it shifts valuable resources into pursuing false leads when those resources could be used on pursuing more reliable leads. Maybe the best way to think about it is to ask yourself how you would respond to torture in a situation where you: 1. Had already decided your cause was worth dying for; 2. Were held captive by the very group of people whose destruction you view as worth dying for; and 3. Were placed in a situation where every horrible thing you ever believed about those people appeared to be true.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Something in the tea leaves

The latest Newsweek poll in Iowa has some interesting information buried in it.
Support for HRC drops by about 25% when you factor in whether a respondent says they are a likely voter. Meanwhile, support for Obama and Richardson increases significantly when you factor this in, to the point that Obama goes from 6 point underdog to 4 point favorite.
On the Republican side, support for Huckabee and Ron Paul doubles or more when you factor in the likelihood of voting.
What this shows is that Hillary's support is disproportionately amongst people who don't really care too much about the primaries (and presumably aren't following politics closely). Similarly, support for Obama, Richardson, and especially Huckabee and Paul is disproportionately from people who do care about the primaries (and presumably are following politics closely).