Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch writes in with the following comments in response to my recent post on Human Rights Watch’s new allegations of water boarding by the CIA:
I’m shocked that you’re shocked!
Seriously, what’s surprised me over the years is that we weren’t getting more solid reports about cases of waterboarding that weren’t authorized. It’s almost an iron law that when governments authorize “special” people to use “special” techniques on “special” detainees, the use of those techniques spreads through the ranks in ways that governments cannot control or predict. It happened, as you know, to the Israelis, to the Brits in Northern Ireland, and with respect to every other “enhanced” technique that the Bush administration authorized—sleep deprivation, nudity, dogs, stress positions, etc., all ended up being used indiscriminately, including by a lot of people who had no authorization. And the reasons are pretty clear: Once you authorize the technique for some people, you can no longer argue that it is wrong or counterproductive; all you can argue is that some people aren’t qualified to use it, and no one wants to be told they’re not qualified. Plus, if the cool black ops people get to use it, before long everyone else wants to copy them. And waterboarding is easy—all you really need is water.
I find this story fascinating for other reasons: These guys aren’t your typical former detainees; these guys are prominent leaders in Libya now (one is the head of the National Guard and in charge of high value detainees!), and the U.S. is working with them. What happened to them raises all kinds of interesting questions about the proper focus of the war on terror, suggesting that the Bush administration did indeed cast far too broad a net in the early days, falsely conflating, in some cases, Islamists who were only at war with their own governments with Al Qaeda, and about the U.S. relationship with Libya under Qaddafi. The media attention was on the waterboarding of course, but there is a lot more to this.