If you thought about it for fifteen minutes you could see that introducing heavily-armed unaccountable mercenaries into a combat zone where you were trying to conduct a delicate counterinsurgency mission was a bad idea. But according to The Washington Post, the Bush administration even got repeated and specific warnings that the Blackwater situation was out of hand. At which point, naturally, they did nothing.
My colleague-who-I’ve-never-actually-met Mark Bowden writes in defense of waterboarding for The Philadelphia Inquirer and, I think, misstates the “torture doesn’t work” thesis in the course of it: “Opponents of torture argue that it never works, that it always produces false information.”
This is a strawman that’s easy enough to knock down. The thesis that “torture doesn’t work” isn’t the thesis that one can never torture a guy into saying something that’s true. In the limiting case, if you capture a guy who you think is a terrorist but who is not, in fact, a terrorist and then torture him into giving up information about plots the victim will, at some point, plead that he doesn’t know anything. The question, though, is whether or not torture enhances your overall knowledge of the situation. The problem with torture isn’t that it’s some kind of truth-negator that makes people lie. The problem is that it just makes people talk and talk and talk and talk until you stop torturing them. Will some of the information be good? Possibly. Will any of it be reliable? No.
It’s really too bad that David Rohde, Carlotta Gall, Eric Schmitt, and David Sanger did all this reporting only for The New York Times to bury their story in a Christmas Eve edition of the paper that few people will read. At any rate, we learned back in November that our aid to Pakistan was basically big bundles of unaccountable cash, more like bribes to Pervez Musharraf and other top officials than aid as such. The Times team went looking after where it went and the answer turns out to be: not where it was supposed to:
In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs.
Along with various things about the need for oversight, etc., I think this underscores the point that we’ve underinvested in diplomatic efforts to try to reduce India-Pakistan tensions. Pakistan’s sense of beseigement vis-a-vis its largest neighbor is like an acid that keeps eating away at our efforts to convince them to prioritize a fight against radical groups. And understandably so — as long as Pakistan is adjacent to a larger, richer, nuclear-armed hostile country that fact is going to be the defense establishment’s top priority. It’s obviously not something we can wish away with a magic wand, but it’s worth putting some effort into since the payoff would be very large and absent progress on that front it’s hard for any incentive package to be cleverly-designed enough to really work.