The latest controversy about the CIA destroying videotapes showing prisoners being subjected to waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning, is frankly one of the stupidest things in politics. There’s bound to be lots of partisan investigations to get some answers, and a general expression of outrage on the topic. But, I can stop a whole bunch of wasted effort and tell you why the CIA destroyed the tapes in two words: The Internet.
Think of it this way. Is it worse for the CIA to deal with the controversy of destroying the tapes in question or having the tapes end up on the Internet? The Central Intelligence Agency demonstrated some intelligence on this matter. It is really that simple.
The controversy over the Iraq Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse clearly demonstrated that questionable behavior isn’t the problem for the government -- it’s the exposure that creates the problem for the government. In the case of Abu Ghraib, there were some grumblings of abuse before it became widely known. However, until the pictures came out, there really wasn’t much of an issue.
Now let’s imagine what would have happened if tapes of a waterboarding session were actually released to the Internet. Of course, the released tapes would not include the resulting interviews where Khalid Sheik Mohammed detailed how he drafted the initial plans for the September 11th attacks, which was supposed to include 10 planes instead of 4 and end up with him personally killing all the passengers on one of the planes.
Nor would the tapes include his admission of personally beheading Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl with a knife. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget about all of the details of the planned terrorist attacks and the terrorists’ locations, which he divulged after being waterboarded.
Now, all of a sudden, the world is outraged because poor Khalid Sheik Mohammed was subjected to a simulated drowning for 45 seconds. Clearly, waterboarding must be cruel and inhumane.
The truth is, YouTube Inc. is chock full of videos of people subjecting themselves to waterboarding. It’s amazing. For all the talk about how inhumane waterboarding is, it doesn’t seem to have the long-term effects on the YouTube subjects that Congress contends it has on the poor terrorists.
Personally, I don’t buy the position that prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base should be held indefinitely without trial. Additionally, I don’t believe that soldiers or spies, who are following clear orders of a nation state, should ever be subjected to torture. Sadly though, U.S. soldiers have been tortured in every significant conflict since 1776. From the standpoint of my friends who went through POW training, they would generally prefer waterboarding to anything else they were subjected to.
No matter how bad the current waterboarding controversy gets for the CIA, they definitely did the right thing by destroying the tapes. If the tapes were somehow released on the Internet, the resulting controversy would be 10 times worse than it is now.
However, I want to leave you with one final thought. While the CIA prefers to keep this controversy away from the Internet, the terrorists can’t wait to post their cowardly actions on the Internet. If you want proof of my position, just conduct an online search for the Daniel Pearl video. Khalid Sheik Mohammad is very proud of that work.
In many cases, the Internet can be a great indicator of a variety of things, including the relative morality of waterboarding and the people subjected to it.
— Ira Winkler, Former National Security Agency analyst and author of Spies Among Us