Writing on the New York Times website Tuesday, Mike Nizza discussed the revelation that in contrast to the CIA’s admitted use of techniques like "waterboarding" to try to get information out of Al Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo, FBI interrogators used less coercive tactics. Namely, giving the men "food whenever they were hungry" and, on occasion, even Starbucks coffee.
Maybe there is more to this story — like maybe once the suspects got used to Starbucks, they threatened them with having to go back to Gitmo-blend coffee unless they talked. That might still be cruel and unusual.
As Nizza points out, the Starbucks detail is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, there is now officially nowhere on the planet that does not have a Starbucks. (Guantanamo also reportedly has a gift shop, which is good to know.) Second, if the FBI has been successful this way — and 60 Minutes reported recently that a tactic called "conversation" also worked with Saddam Hussein — are the CIA tactics necessary or even a good idea (setting aside whether they are legal)?
According to the Washington Post, an FBI team has been working with the suspects since 2006, attempting to get incriminating information that the CIA had already obtained, but without using any controversial techniques in the hopes that the admissions would hold up in court. Whether or not the information has already been tainted by the earlier tactics, though, remains to be seen, according to a former judge advocate general who spoke to the Post. "Once you torture someone," he said, "it is hard to un-torture them."
On the other hand, Justice Scalia thinks we should not be such pansies about this "so-called torture," as he referred to it in a BBC interview. "Is it really so easy to determine," he said, "that smacking someone in the face to determine where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited in the Constitution?" Turns out that’s a rhetorical question. "It would be absurd to say you couldn’t do that," he continued, "and once you acknowledge that, we’re into a different game." Sounds like pretty clear guidance — if you are a character on "24."
So, today’s lesson is that if you have time to interrogate a suspect, you should be nice and bring him Starbucks; but if the bomb is ticking, feel free to smack him in the face. Don’t say you never learned anything from reading Lowering the Bar.