Monday, April 30, 2012

Ensure Plus: recommended by 3 out of 4 interrogators

Leslie Stahl interviewed Jose Rodriguez--former head of the CIA's Clandestine Service--for 60 Minutes this week. It's a very detailed piece, well worth watching. The following link also provides a transcript: Hard Measures.

Some of this stuff is difficult to hear, but much of it suggests that--as far as Rodriguez is concerned--it was effective. Stahl is not willing to hear that, of course. She doubts his claims in this regard:
Lesley Stahl: In fact, what they say is everything important that he gave up, he gave up to them before the harsher interrogation techniques kicked in. 
Jose Rodriguez: Well, that is just not true. It's not true. 
Lesley Stahl: Well, now they say that. And you say, "It's not true." What am I supposed to think? I don't know...Here's something that was told to me. Abu Zubaydah's stories sent the CIA around the globe. Not a single plot was foiled. We spent millions chasing phantoms. 
Jose Rodriguez: Bullshit. He gave us a road map that allowed us to capture a bunch of Al Qaeda senior leaders.
Stahl is right: she doesn't know. And Rodriguez is a spook. To borrow from Clear and Present Danger, he lies for a living, he is in the intelligence business! So, what is the truth? Can we ever actually know it? Probably not.

My own personal feelings on the issue of torture and "enhanced interrogation techniques" is that they are wrong, that they violate the basic tenets of the Constitution and the underlying worldview that informs it. That said, the words of Voltaire are worth remembering:
There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.
The world is a dangerous place; we should never forget that. There are people willing to do great evil, people that have done great evil, and the principle role of the government--above all else--is security and protection. The great majority of us in the United States are born, live, and die without recourse to do things repugnant to our natures. We are afforded that luxury and our way of life thanks to--to borrow from J.S. Mill--the exertions of better men than ourselves.

I don't want anyone--anyone--tortured. But I realize that, in the course of war, conflict, and maintaining security, there will be moments when lines are crossed. Perhaps crossing such lines is never justified, but it will happen and results will be achieved, results that we would all gladly accept if we had only incomplete knowledge of how they were achieved.

While some might believe shining a light on things in the dark is always beneficial, I disagree. Some things should remain in the dark. The trick is to minimize the dark. We have (or our government has)--in the last decade--gone the wrong way. Twice. First, we tried to justify things that cannot be justified, to pretend that there was no dark, at all. Then, we objected to everything in the dark, talked ourselves into believing--contrary to history--that there was never a real need for the dark at all.

And with regard to the last--pretending that what sometimes must happen never need happen--we wander into the realm of the silly. Witness this portion of Stahl's interview (with regard to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's water-boarding sessions):
Lesley Stahl: So what happens? Does he break down? Does he weep? Does he fall apart? 
Jose Rodriguez: No. He gets a good night's sleep. He gets his Ensure. By the way, he was very heavy when he came to us and he lost 50 pounds. So-- 
Lesley Stahl: What his Ensure? You mean like people in the hospital who drink that stuff? 
Jose Rodriguez: Yes. Dietary manipulation was part of these-- our techniques. 
Lesley Stahl: So sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation. I mean, this is Orwellian stuff. The United States doesn't do that.
Hey, I'm as likely as anyone else to make an Orwell reference, but come on! Giving prisoners of war Ensure  is Orwellian? By what standard? Ensure is a highly nutritious drink, a far cry above bread and water (my kids actually prefer vanilla Boost). As Donald Sutherland said in Space Cowboys:
I drink this stuff. It's good for your libido.
And the angle is not new, at all, despite Stahl's apparent shock at hearing about it. From a Salon article, back in 2010:
One of the weirdest details in the documents is the revelation that the agency placed detainees on liquid diets prior to the use of waterboarding. That’s because during waterboarding, “a detainee might vomit and then aspirate the emesis,” Bradbury wrote. In other words, breathe in his own vomit. The CIA recommended the use of Ensure Plus for the liquid diet.
So in other words--regardless of how one feels about water-boarding--a principle reason for the Ensure diet was to protect detainees during the process. That is weird. But hardly Orwellian. And certainly not breaking news.

And that's the problem with Stahl's breathless shock, when given these details: she doesn't have a sound grip on the specifics--like most of us--and really doesn't need to hear about them.

Again, the world is a dangerous place, full of things that really do go bump in the night. Some of those things we allow, even create, but the dark will always be there.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. From Ghost Writer (2010):

    "Do you know what I'd do if I was in power again? I'd have two queues at airports: one for flights where we'd done no background checks, infringed on no one's civil bloody liberties, used no intelligence gained by torture. And on the other flight we'd do everything we possibly could to make it perfectly safe. And then we'd see which plane the Rycarts of this world would put their bloody kids on!"

    I know which plane the Leslie Stahls of the world would be buying their carbon credits to fly on.