Rep. Burton: Working With Abdulmutallab's Parents Is Not "The Way To Conduct Intelligence"

February 04, 2010 4:03 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Last April, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to brief lawmakers on the administration's foreign policy objectives.  Called on to speak, Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), ranking member of Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, did not use his time to discuss foreign policy goals. Instead, he enthusiastically spoke in favor of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, a crafty euphemism used to describe techniques which are considered torture under international law.

In subsequent months, Burton has been on the forefront of an effort in the House to fight against many of President Obama's main national security priorities, including the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the transfer of detainees to a federal prison.  At almost every opportunity, Burton has politicized the national security debate. 

In the aftermath of the failed bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, for example, Burton was one of the first to call on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to resign, saying that she had "undermined the confidence of Americans."  But under close scrutiny, many of Burton's main assertions on national security prove to be counterintuitive or just flat-out wrong.

On Wednesday night, Burton took to the House floor to again criticize the administration's response to the attempted Christmas Day attack.  First, Burton asked, how can waterboarding be considered torture if our military employs it on troops in its Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program? As we've pointed out before, military personnel are waterboarded not for amusement, but "precisely so they'll be prepared to withstand torture." 

Moreover, many have made the point that the intelligence gained through such harsh measures is unlikely to be actionable.  Extreme pain and stress can in fact impair a detainee's ability to tell the truth.  For example, the Los Angeles Times reported last June that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks has himself claimed that he made up stories in order to make the abuse stop.

Burton is quick to point out that he himself does not support torture.  But at the same time he asserts that torture is ultimately in the eye of the beholder.  Such circular logic would presumably open the door for anything Burton deems appropriate.  And that logic could also be used by our enemies.  North Korea could, theoretically, justify waterboarding - or any other form of torture - on Americans by noting that an American Congressman said that torture is in the eye of the beholder.  How would Burton's logic work out then?

Lastly, Burton questioned the efficacy of giving civilian rights to alleged bomber Umar Abdulmutallab.  He wondered if seeking the cooperation of Abdulmutallab's parents was "the way that you conduct intelligence?"  In fact, as the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the FBI's decision to get his parents to talk to him has paid dividends and Abdulmutallab is again talking to investigators. 

Speaking before a hearing earlier in the week, FBI Director Robert Mueller told senators, "we have been successful in obtaining intelligence, not just on day one, but on day two, day three, day four, and day five, down the road." Were authorities to put him through the techniques Burton has been so fond of, his parents would have likely not cooperated.  And real, actionable intelligence could have been lost. 

As The American Prospect's Adam Serwer wrote yesterday, "Facts are ultimately irrelevant to the pro-torture right. They're concerned with approaches that levy extrajudicial punishment on Muslims suspected of terrorism, not with sound national security policies."  Burton seems to fit that profile perfectly.

John Donnelly, an assistant to Burton, did not respond to a request for comment.


Watch:

Burton: They say waterboarding is terrible and its torture.  But did you know, and I don't think many of my colleagues know this, but the Survival, Evasion, Rescue and Escape training for our military personnel, and that's the Special Forces, the Navy Seals and pilots that fly in the military, they go through enhanced techniques like this and they go through waterboarding.  They have for 30 years.  Now maybe they're stopping it now, but they for 30 years, since Vietnam, went through waterboarding as a training technique.  No body called it torture then. [...]This guy that flew into Detroit and tried to blow up an airplane with 230-something people on it, we gave him his Miranda rights, and then after that, we went over to his home country and brought his mother and father back so they could talk to him to convince him to talk to the American intelligence people.  Is that the way that you conduct intelligence gathering?

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