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January 31, 2013

Slate: The case for torture

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Hayden said the Abu Zubaydah story "was important for my own soul-searching on this." The detainee's view of the interrogators, he said, was that "Allah expects us to obey him, but he will not send us a burden that is greater than we can handle. You have done that. Therefore you have freed my soul, that I can speak to you without fear of hell."

11. The liberation rationale may not apply to future conflicts.

Enhanced interrogation were "peculiarly well suited to this group, whose belief was founded on . . . obedience to the will of God," said Hayden. That doesn't mean "what we were doing was universally applicable for all detainees in all circumstances for all future crises."

12. If you refuse to exploit prisoners, you'll end up killing your enemies instead.

All three panelists trashed the Obama-era conceit that we're a better country because we've scrapped the interrogation program. What we've really done, they argued, is replace interrogations with drone strikes. "We have made it so legally difficult and so politically dangerous to capture," said Hayden, "that it seems, from the outside looking in, that the default option is to take the terrorists off the battlefield in another sort of way." Rizzo agreed, and he quoted "The Godfather" to suggest that the new policy is bloody and stupid: "You can't kill everybody."

13. Face the dilemma.

The panelists welcomed moral debate about enhanced interrogation but scorned the delusion that these methods hadn't produced vital information. Candor about the cost of your principles, they argued, is a basic rule of moral health. "We need to be honest with ourselves," said Rodriguez.

What can these disclosures and reflections by former leaders of the CIA teach us? Several things. First, when you're under pressure and fear, as the CIA was after 9/11, it's easy to talk yourself into anything. You tell yourself it's OK to waterboard detainees because we've waterboarded U.S. soldiers — never mind that the soldiers knew it was just an exercise.

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