Michael Ledeen in the Corner on the National Review site posts a terrifying story about Iraq and Al Quaeda's operations there- Ledeen has been wrong before he announced the death of the still alive Ayatollah Khameini last year- but in this case he has provided the names of two US officers who have provided him with information- basically the information is that within Iraq, Al Quaeda are committing cannibalism and terrifying the local people through serving them their own children as meals. This may as I said be a myth or may be exaggeration- who knows. I have heard no other reports saying this from any correspondents in Iraq and Ledeen is not in Iraq- but he does name the US officers.
But the key part of Ledeen's post isn't those horrifying facts (though we will return to them)- its a last sentence about the use of torture- I quote
It just seems to me that anyone involved in such activity isn't really entitled to high-priced legal defense in American courts. Guantanamo is way too good for such animals.Ledeen basically is saying that the nature of the crime justifies the idea that torture should be used. No doubt he has other justifications for torture- but he has made this one- so let us for a moment examine it. There are as far as I can see two problems with it. Torturing a person is designed to obtain information from them- the most natural time to be obtaining information is when you don't know what you want to know- and what you don't know may well be the crime itself- therefore you wouldn't necessarily know that the person you were torturing was involved in such activity until after you had obtained the information (and given it to a court and gone through a process) that you are torturing them to get. Furthermore even if they had committed the crime- there is a further principle involved that Mr Ledeen doesn't mention and that is the rule of law. The idea that for the same crime two individuals receive the same penalty- now in Iraq the US occupation obviously has to deal differently with people- but Mr Ledeen isn't invoking that- he is saying that the crime justifies torture- in which case if it justifies it in Baghdad why doesn't that principle justify torture in Beverley Hills for a cannibal!
But lets go a little further and re-examine the information that Ledeen is getting from his army commanders because it illustrates another danger of using torture. His officers are telling Ledeen no doubt in good faith that at Iraqi parties sons are served to their parents by Al Quaeda- but where did they get that information from- they weren't there. Lets say they got it by interrogating Iraqi prisoners- we know that in the prisons in Iraq US officers have been instructed to ignore the Geneva conventions, we also know that in Iraq at this very moment US soldiers are facing hideous psychological strain- strain which pushes them to thinking of every Iraqi as an enemy. Lets imagine the scenario- I want to find out what happened at a meeting- I therefore use robust methods of torture and I say to you that I will stop waterboarding you or stop degrading you if only you will tell me that at this meeting someone was served their own son as a meal. After four or five days of torture you might say yes- and then I might repeat it to Michael Ledeen.
I'm not saying that's what did happen but as soon as you allow torture its a safe presumption that most of your information obtained in that way may very well be absolutely useless. That involves a further danger- it means that many of the people involved in making the policy and implementing it on the streets of Baghdad don't know the true situation.