Friday, December 14, 2012

The Moral Choices on Interrogations

The new movie "Zero Dark Thirty" and a yet-to-be-released report approved by the United Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the CIA interrogation program have turned the media spotlight once again on the issue of enhanced interrogation methods. While this article by David Ignatius doesn't cover new ground, it does raise once more the issue of whether the key factor in determining whether enhanced interrogation methods are permissible is the effectiveness of these methods to obtain valuable information. Perhaps certain interrogation methods are never justifiable despite their alleged effectiveness.

Executive Order 13491, signed by President Obama on January 22, 2009, limits interrogation techniques to those "authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual 2 22.3". Certain interrogation techniques deemed "enhanced interrogation methods" used by U.S. officials in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 would not be permitted under Executive Order 13491. However, this has not stopped the public debate. Amy Zegart has pointed out, in her recent article "Torture Creep", that surveys indicate that the American public in 2012 is more accepting of enhanced interrogation methods than was the case in 2005. One possible reason for this is that many people might not believe claims that the most vital information can be derived from detainees through non-coercive means. Additionally, in their minds, harsh interrogation methods might demonstrate a level of seriousness in stopping terrorism that other methods do not.

Ultimately, the general public is forced to view the issue as outsiders not privy to the full account of methods used or the actual information obtained. Therefore, outsiders are not in a position to decide what is effective or even whether non-coercive means would have obtained or did in fact obtain the same information. Reliance by the general public on expert opinion or the experiences of "insiders" is hardly unique to intelligence work. However, the secrecy surrounding intelligence work complicates exponentially any attempt at an informed decision on matters such as enhanced interrogation methods. This fumbling in the dark heightens the need for the robust internal oversight of activities whose impact few members of the general public feel directly and for which public information is scarce. 

The Moral Choices on Interrogations, David Ignatius, The Washington Post, December 12, 2012