Leave The Waterboard At Home.

Michael Crowley has some thoughts on the alleged terrorist plot involving Najibullah Zazi:

Doesn't this seem like something approaching the "ticking time bomb" scenario that constantly bedevils debates about interrogation techniques? How hard are the feds working Zazi for information about possible would-be terrorists inside the U.S. right now? How hard should they be working him? I keep leaning towards one conclusion--then imagining how I would feel about that conclusion if a bomb kills someone I know on the New York subway next week.

This week alone, in addition to the alleged Zazi plot, law enforcement agencies stopped an attempted bombing in Dallas and an attempted bombing in Springfield. In both of these instances, they made contact with the suspects at a very early stage. Obviously, until all the details of the alleged Zazi plot come to light, it's difficult to speculate how much danger the country is still in. But if anything, it's been a great week for domestic counterterrorism as a domain of law enforcement, and it's been a terrible week for people who think we need to break out the confinement boxes and waterboards every time the government captures someone it believes is dangerous. Crowley's point assumes that torturing Zazi would yield accurate information, and thus far, we have little reason to believe that's the case. In fact, recent scientific evidence suggests the opposite.

Let's say we did torture Zazi, and the scenario Crowley envisions occurs anyway. Would we then believe that torture doesn't work, or that we simply didn't "work him" hard enough? Once you've accepted the premise that torture is a magic bullet, the conclusion when it fails is going to be that we simply
didn't torture as much as we should have.

From now on, are we going to have a debate over whether or not to violate the law every single time there's news of a potential terrorist attack?

-- A. Serwer

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