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Tortured logic (bumped with update)

By mmguestblogger  •  August 17, 2006 02:39 PM

Andrew Sullivan, clearly wanting to engage with the “deranged”, has asked that I provide evidence that an attack was imminent, and therefore, as I argued, that torture to obtain information about the impending attack was necessary and legitimate.

The entirety of Sullivan’s argument, in particular his criticism of me, actually makes no sense. He writes:

“I have yet to read any evidence that an attack was “imminent”. All the stories I’ve read have argued that the plot was for a dummy-run. Maybe Karol Sheinin has sources that I haven’t read. If she has, she should provide them, or correct her post. If she has a different understanding of the term “imminent,” then it would be helpful for her to say so.”

Imminent means “about to occur”. From Britain’s Daily Mail, August 11th.:

Terrorists were planning to unleash a series of deadly mid-air explosions on flights between London and America on August 16, it has been revealed today.

Members of the terror group, who were arrested in a series of raids by anti-terror police yesterday, were due to mount a dry run today to check if they could smuggle components for liquid explosives through Britain’s airports.

United Airline tickets dated next Wednesday were found by police at the home of one of the raided addresses.

To me, and please bloggers do correct me if I’m wrong, a terrorist attack within the week is ‘imminent’. Therefore, I am in favor of doing whatever needs to be done to extract that information from those who possess it in order to stop the attack.

But here’s where Sullivan loses the plot:

My point about the use of torture is related to the reliability of the evidence. Torture is renowned for providing faulty information, even in totalitarian states whose techniques some conservatives now endorse. My question is about whether the evidence is indeed faulty. We don’t know. If there’s not much there and the British are forced to release the suspects without charging them, the backlash against Blair will be enormous. And that will make future counter-terrorism harder.

So, Sullivan is against torture because he believes information obtained under those conditions is faulty. Fine, I can understand, though not agree, with that line of thinking. But why is he then questioning my take that the attacks were imminent and why is he asking me to point to evidence that this was so? What difference does it make? If he’s against torture, in all situations, even if attacks are imminent, why waste time shooting down the “imminent” argument?

Sullivan concludes with this:

“I should add I don’t think I can be accused of disbelieving the potential of terrorists to strike again. I have a cover-story in the current New York Magazine premised on exactly that – on a far larger scale than anything alleged recently.”

In case you haven’t read the story, it’s an alternative history of what would have happened if 9/11 had never occured. How is this fiction even remotely relevant to his argument about actual events happening today?

Sullivan used to be one of my favorite writers, even when I disagreed with him. He was the first blogger I ever gave money to, though admittedly it was only 20 bucks. But he’s let his emotion override his critical thinking skills. He can call me “deranged” as much as he’d like, obviously he finds that easier than forming coherent arguments.

Update, 1:50pm: Shoot, I didn’t mean to steal James Taranto’s headline on this very matter from yesterday. Sorry, James, I guess you just get into my head.

Update, 2:07pm: Sullivan is grasping at straws in his response (notice, it’s no longer the “Alleged UK Terror Plot”, it’s now simply “UK Terror Plot”) but ok, fine, let’s go. He quotes an MSNBC piece:

“One senior British official suggested an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports. The sources did say, however, that police believe one U.K.-based suspect was ready to conduct a “dry run.” “

Sullivan sees this as proof he was right….I’m not quite sure about what, however:

So we have one Islamist planning a dry-run. We have no evidence that any of the others had even bought airline tickets. Malkin-stand-in Karol Sheinin produces a week-old story from the right-wing tabloid Daily Mail to bolster her view that an actual threat to innocent lives was “imminent”. All I can say is that, since August 11, new data have cast that unsourced information more suspect, and if Sheinin were a little more savvy about the British press, and had absorbed information unveiled within the last week, she’d be a little more skeptical.

Call me crazy, or you know, deranged, but one terrorist is one too many. And, if Sullivan didn’t see one as enough, why is he trusting the word of one “senior British official” merely suggesting what may or may not be true.

But, again, overall, I don’t see Sullivan’s point. Why does it matter to him whether the attack was imminent? If he doesn’t support torture regardless of the risk to innocent people, imminent risk or not, why the obsession with this particular line of argument?

Also, his crack about my lack of British press savvy is funny. My day job is in public relations, I deal with press all the live long day. And, I lived in Britain for a little under three years during college, so I know at least a little about the British media. What’s Andrew’s point?

He then quotes a piece in today’s Guardian:

A security official said: “There was a mastermind, there was a planner, and there were the executioners.” He claimed the al-Qaida link to the alleged plot in Britain had been established and that it had been at the planning stage when it was interrupted in London last week. [My italics].

And adds:

I don’t know about you – but “a planning stage” does not mean “imminent” to me. But tell that to Karol Sheinin. If torture is permissible to get information for plots in the “planning stage,” well you see how the narrow case for torture always expands as soon as it is entertained.

What, now? Isn’t a “planning stage” the stage right before the “blow everyone to smithereens stage”? How does Sullivan know that the planning stage wasn’t in its final day, the dry run was to happen the following day and the actual terrorist attack a mere day or two later? What kind of wacky speculation is this?

Sullivan then adds:

Still, there’s little doubt that there was a serious plot in the works.

Wow, the Sullivan of Thursday should let the Sullivan of Wednesday know, because that guy had more than just a little doubt that there was any such serious plot.

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