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Necessary Roughness

The title of this post might suggest this is an homage to the Scott Bakula film of the same name (one of the few sports centric films I like). No the "necessary roughness" to which I speak of comes from a former CIA operative who claims that while practices such as waterboarding do constitute torture, it was nonetheless the right call given all the worthwhile information gleamed.

A leader of the CIA team that captured the first major al Qaeda figure, Abu Zubaydah, says subjecting him to waterboarding was torture but necessary.

In the first public comment by any CIA officer involved in handling high-value al Qaeda targets, John Kiriakou, now retired, said the technique broke Zubaydah in less than 35 seconds.

"The next day, he told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate," said Kiriakou in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC News' "World News With Charles Gibson" and "Nightline."

"From that day on, he answered every question," Kiriakou said. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."


Kiriakou says he struggled with the idea of which was more important: refusing to torture or learning valuable information in the hectic, post-9/11 scare. No doubt there are some who would view him as a Jack Bauer-esque figure, willing to do what was necessary to protect American lives. But as Kevin Drum reminds us just what we learned from Zubaydah via these tough love practices remains very much in doubt.

Kiriakou says he ultimately feels that waterboarding is torture and that as Americans "we're better than that". But that he would even allow that such may be necessary in some cases, he forfeits the seriousness of the claim. For when you open the gates, even seemingly out of necessity, you also risk moving into the "because we can" territory.

(Filed at State of the Day and All Spin Zone)

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