Should security institutions be above the law?


The White House has confirmed there will be a new interrogation team for key terror suspects.The new team will be called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group.

This comes as the Justice Department launches a criminal probe of past CIA interrogation tactics during President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism.

News reports suggest that CIA interrogators used death threats, carried out a mock execution and threatened a suspected AL-Qaeda commander with a gun and an electric drill. It’s illegal to threaten a detainee with imminent death. 

The U.S. Justice Department has recommended reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases.  The recommendation could lead to the prosecution of CIA employees and contractors over the treatment of terrorism suspects.  Is this fair? Are these torture methods too extreme or are they a necessary way to obtain vital information for terror suspects and protect the county? What is acceptable torture?

Blogger Jay Bookman says ‘torture persecutions need to start from the top down’.

But Republican senators have warned against the Holder CIA abuse inquiry stating that it would distract the agency, hamper U.S. intelligence efforts and ‘could leave US more venerable to attack’.

And former Vice President Dick Cheney told The Weekly Standard, a conservative journal, that the decision “serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.”

Is there not a good point in not wanting classified information such as these files to be investigated publicly? Doesn’t that undermine the work of agencies that by definition depend on classified information? Should security institutions be above the law?

This blogger says that sometimes those who make “difficult judgments’ and get caught doing so, it seems, suffer the consequences of being ostracised and prosecuted by the very institutions that ask them to make the ‘hard choices’ in the first place.

Are we not conditioning, too negatively, those who have to make ‘difficult judgments’, which are so inevitable in conflict?”

Also a couple of comments on this blog:
This one from Rob P
“I would ask. Why are TV shows like “24” so popular? Because as much as we wouldn’t want to admit it. We WANT people like Jack Bauer to do what is necessary to protect us. It may only be a TV show, but I’d bet some interrogations have been way outside the “Army Field Manual” and we are safer because of them… I am glad that there are parts of the military and intelligence community that understand that in war, and yes, we and our lifestyle are at war, the enemy we are fighting will try to win at all costs. Those that would undermine our way of life don’t care about any rules, written or unwritten.”

And this one from Jeff who asks what if there is a terror plot..
“Then it will be” why didn’t uncle Sam protect us and do more”… well the guy we had knew but and we asked nicely but he would not tell us the terror plot… LAUGHABLE JOKE!”

Most of the comments we got so far condemn torture and agencies that carry it out. But if it means keeping thousands of people safe around the world, by obtaining valuable information about potential terrorist attacks, should these agencies have some sort of immunity?

30 Responses to “Should security institutions be above the law?”

  1. 1 T
    August 24, 2009 at 20:58

    I’m very suspicious when Obama talks about “torture controls”:
    Nobody has been prosecuted or convicted for torture.
    Key CIA evidence has been destroyed.
    Obama’s key commander in Afghanistan was in charge of Cheney’s secret (and illegal) assassanation squad.

    Does this give you confidence that anything will change?

  2. 2 Dennis Junior
    August 24, 2009 at 21:07

    What the CIA is accused of doing is NOT acceptable ways of torture..Until the investigations have been processed, then I have no idea of who is guilty or not!

    =Dennis Junior=

  3. 3 anu_D
    August 24, 2009 at 21:43

    anything that doesn’t kill or damage any vital organs should be acceptable as a torture…in progressive steps.

    In progressive steps….implies some kinda scale depending on the severity of the crime.

    so thieves would be at the lowest step and murderous terrorists at the highest.

  4. 4 Peter in Jamaica
    August 24, 2009 at 22:20

    Acceptable Torture…is there such a thing? Here are a few definitions of torture:-

    – anguish, extreme mental distress
    – unbearable physical pain and agony.
    – intense feelings of suffering, acute mental or physical pain.
    – torment emotionally or mentally.

    Now you tell me what part of that is acceptable. torture is torture there is no level of acceptance once you are on the receiving end.
    If torture is not an acceptable means of interrogation and is deemed illegal then how can there be term deemed as “Acceptable Torture”. It would seem that only those dishing it out would use such a term.

  5. August 25, 2009 at 00:11

    No physical torture is acceptable torture. Puting someone behind bars is gruesome enough, specially when you have more innocents and less criminals in your custody (like what happened to the uighars in gitmo).

  6. 6 Jonnan
    August 25, 2009 at 00:39

    Evidently acceptable is now defined as ‘when we do it’,

  7. 7 Rob (UK)
    August 25, 2009 at 03:45

    There is no acceptable level. If we have to harm or threaten with harm an individual so that they will tell us what we want to hear, they will tell us what we want to hear. And there’s no guarantee it’ll be true.

    Plus, we don’t feel he need to torture persons who have been charged or convicted or murder, rape or child abuse – why should suspected terrorists be treated any differently?

    If we have evidence to convict them of a crime, we should do so. But if they are unwilling to communicate, then that’s too bad.

  8. 8 Roy, Washington DC
    August 25, 2009 at 03:49

    Is it something we would want US citizens to be potentially exposed to in other countries? If not, then we shouldn’t be doing it ourselves. It’s time for us to lead by example, and it’s time to show the world that we’re better than that.

    • 9 edonyu
      August 25, 2009 at 15:29


      I agree that the US, since it’s the self appointed guarantor of neo-democracy and civilisation as we know it, should be exemplary. However, terrorists do not fit in this category of the civilised and democratic; they, therefore, should be told so in a language that they understand! At the very least, if they were acting on behalf of a regime that adheres to the tenets of civilisation, then terrorists would be afforded civilised treatment.

  9. 10 Tom K in Mpls
    August 25, 2009 at 03:56

    None. I have no words to express how despicable I find groups like the Mossad, KGB, CIA, MI6 and all the others. If you want to know why things get so bad in the world, look no further than these groups and the others of their type. They have limited or no accountability and routinely work to undermine other countries. How can this be good?

  10. 11 Tan Boon Tee
    August 25, 2009 at 04:23

    A torture is a torture, the question of acceptability does not arise.

    If the investigation is going to be carried out in full force, the revelation will further badly tarnished if not absolutely damaged the US image in the eyes of the rest of the world.

    One would wonder if it is opportune or convenient for the present administration to wash the dirty linens of its predecessor in public, for the ensuing repercussion or ramification can get out of control and turn real ugly. Surely, Washington does not want to hurt the CIA to the extent of inviting an unnecessary backlash from its most coveted secret intelligence, however less-than-severe it may be.

    Does any person want to see the Republicans and the Democrats splitting further apart?

  11. 12 edonyu
    August 25, 2009 at 06:29

    Torture is never right by any yardstick. However, President Obama should stop the prosecution of the CIA even if that be on the grounds of ‘amnesty’! Otherwise, he is opening a can of worms. Every new presidency will start spending a lot of time auditing the previous ones and only the foot soldiers will pay the price. Believe me, we have seen all that over here in Africa. President 1 out; president 2 in; lift immunity and prosecute!

  12. 13 Crispo
    August 25, 2009 at 10:56

    George Orwell put it so elaborately in Animal Farm; ‘all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’

    The ‘pigs’ of modern times are so much unscrupulous that by any measure they torture modern day ‘donkeys’ and ‘sheep’. Like many have contended, torture is torture and even 0.1% of it is acceptable.

    To remove a tumor in the body(CIA), an operation must be carried out, even if it seems Obama is opening a can of worms. Best of luck to him.

  13. 14 Bob in Queensland
    August 25, 2009 at 11:07

    It’s the rule of law that should set democratic governments apart from the terrorists. If we accept any form of torture because “the end justifies the means” then we’re no better than the terrorists. I usually try to avoid the “slippery slope” argument but this is one case where we should not and cannot accept “a little light torture”.

  14. 15 Deryck/Trinidad
    August 25, 2009 at 12:04

    There is no such thing as acceptable torture. If you want a criminals to speak you have three choices torture, offer immunity from punishment or a plea bargain.

    Torture is not acceptable but most criminals are tortured though the naive public doesn’t accept that.

    Any attempt by Obama to avoid prosecution of former torture experts adds to the credence that there is one law for the rest of the world but another law for the US.

    It is time that the rest of the world refuse to truckle in the face US power and demand that these CIA agents who acted with impunity not escape.

    August 25, 2009 at 12:11

    In America, all are equal before the law and and surely this should never have been politicized.
    Remember Nixon in the Watergate? Remember Clinton? Remember Regan in the Iran/contra affair. Does CIA and contractors operatives have more immunity than the president when it comes to the abuse of office?

    If you sanctify torture, why would anyone wish to ostracize the terrorists? No please. Arrest is okay, jail is okay, execution is okay; when backed by the law. CIA is an intelligent community and should be conversant with what the law stipulates. Of all its woes, it is said to have been the mastermind of most terror organizations and their mastermind. It must be accountable like everyone else.

  16. 17 patti in cape coral
    August 25, 2009 at 12:59

    Torture is not acceptable. I’m pretty sure if I was tortured, I would say anything, truth or lies, to make it stop, so I feel it not only unacceptable, but ineffective.

  17. 18 Ibrahim in UK
    August 25, 2009 at 13:09

    Should security institutions be above the law? Above which law at what time as interpreted by whom?
    Torture is illegal, but the definition of torture can be interpreted however we want. In any case, we can deny all responsibility by outsourcing torture to other countries who don’t have anti-torture laws. Toppling democracies is illegal, supporting dictators commit ethnic cleansing is illegal. US foreign policy and their “security institutions” have been and continue to be based on illegal and immoral activities with the underlying principal that the ends justifies the means. There is no accountability at national nor international level. Guantanamo Bay is still open. Secret rendition still continues. Illegal wars continue to go unpunished. US credibility is at stake in bringing at lease some of these criminals to justice.

  18. 19 James Turner
    August 25, 2009 at 15:21

    Never! Without checks and balances we have chaos!

  19. 20 Wang SongHe
    August 25, 2009 at 15:28

    The question one should be asking is “What would you do if you caught a suspect that you believe is the culprit who raped and killed your young daughter?

    Would you invite him over for tea and asked him if he had done it?

    When we deal with terrorists, we are dealing with people who want to inflict maximum damage to life and properties. Chinese had a saying ” It is better to kill a wrong suspect than to let one go scott-free”

    I would go so far as to say that it is better to assisinate the suspect that to toture. If I work for the CIA, I would not hestitate to shoot on sight any suspect that cross my way.

    • 21 Leo goki, NIGERIA
      September 5, 2009 at 22:56

      i agree with u as much as i hate torture how do you get information from a man that wants to kill as many people as possible he will never give you this information if you ask nicely the only way is to beat or torture it out of him.

  20. 22 patti in cape coral
    August 25, 2009 at 17:37

    @Wang Songhe – ” It is better to kill a wrong suspect than to let one go scott-free I would go so far as to say that it is better to assisinate the suspect that to toture.”

    I would have said the opposite, better to let a suspect go scott-free than to kill the wrong suspect. If we assasinate suspects and “shoot any suspects that cross our way” what is the difference between the good guys and the bad guys?

  21. 23 Tom D Ford
    August 25, 2009 at 18:04

    “And former Vice President Dick Cheney told The Weekly Standard, a conservative journal, that the decision “serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.””

    Wow! Ha ha ha! This from the Vice President of an Administration that was so criminally incompetent that they chose to ignore the warnings from Terry Clarke, the head of US anti-terrorism, about incoming attacks and so allowed 911 to happen. Dick Cheney himself was criminally irresponsible!

    Now. our interrogators were very well trained in the US and International interrogation techniques and the US and International Laws about Torture well before Cheney and Bush got into office, so any changes and or orders to violate the Law and Torture or abuse prisoners had to come down from above and would have raised very serious questions in the minds of our interrogators about the radical changes in legality and violations in the US and International Laws.

    It is clear that Cheney and Bush and their Administration Ordered Crimes and they ought to be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted for those Orders.

    Our security institutions should have remained within the law and those who gave the Orders to commit Crimes ought to be held to account.

    We need to return to being a Nation of Laws.

  22. 24 Peter
    August 25, 2009 at 18:22

    ANYONE who was guilty of committing or authorizing torture should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of national and international law.

    The United States led the way after World War II; Nuremberg set the standards, and the standards should not be eased because it was the United States that committed the crimes as opposed to Nazi Germany. The same standards apply, or America, as a democracy, is forfeit.

  23. 25 Dennis Junior
    August 26, 2009 at 01:34

    Security Institutions should never be above the law, since; They could in theory torture anyone and not having any safeguards to protect!!!!!

    =Dennis Junior=

  24. 26 scmehta
    August 26, 2009 at 07:37

    This is an absurd question; logically, rightfully and justifiably speaking, nobody is above law, and by the way, who would agree or say that such & such institution is above law. Though the arrested terrorists must not be shown any mercy, but what if some of the suspected ones are later found to be innocent. Hence, president Obama is on the right track; we must try various other interrogation techniques (there are lots of them, including the scientific ones, we do know about) instead of extreme torture.

  25. 27 Dennis Junior
    August 26, 2009 at 14:02

    *Are these torture methods too extreme or are they a necessary way to obtain vital information for terror suspects and protect the county? *

    The torture methods that are being outline in this forum and other sources, are in reality are too extreme and should not be accepted….

    =Dennis Junior=

  26. 28 Thomas Murray
    August 26, 2009 at 22:02

    Like anywhere else, the police in the states are infamous for occasionally strong-arming a suspect. But it’s vital that these interrogators be subject to criminal prosecution.

    For one thing, the courts won’t allow evidence obtained through coercive techniques.

    But if an interrogator feels that an issue is so important that he is willing to risk prison time for coercing a statement, That is a choice he has to make.

    Without culpability, the US would be a gulag.

  27. 29 John
    August 30, 2009 at 00:44

    We have been getting continuous stories fed to us by the media about the treatment of terror suspects. Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, getting pounded with loud music 24/7, all those terrible, horrible kinds ot torture inflicted on poor individuals just because they are suspected of murder, rape, bombings and general mahem on the populace at large. What I would like to hear from the mass media is stories in great detail from survivors (rare as they may be) of interrogations by Taliban rebels! Let’s get some really graphic details out there about the horrors inflicted on individuals by perverse members of these terrorist organisations. Just reading about suicide bombers and IED’s going off and murdering hundreds of innocent people is getting boring. Show us the injuries and torture inflicted by these socalled ‘rebels’ on individuals before they put a bullet in the back of their head, then run your stories about the awful things done by the CIA and others. Let’s get a balanced view of what’s going on.

  28. 30 Leo goki, NIGERIA
    September 5, 2009 at 23:02

    the question is how do u get information nicely from a person whose sole aim is to destroy you?????

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