The Wall Street Journal Gets It Wrong on Torture

Reading today’s Wall Street Journal editorial on torture is a through the looking glass experience for anyone concerned with the truth in the debate over U.S. interrogation policies. Time and again, the Journal’s editors get the facts wrong in their efforts to defend the Bush Administration’s torture policies. Here’s the truth behind some of their more glaring errors.

Tortured Arguments

October 9, 2007; Page A16

WSJ’s Tortured Argument: “So, according to newspaper reports, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel responded by detailing that slapping, hypothermia, sleep deprivation and so-called stress positions are allowed. Are these torture?”

  • FACT: Yes, these methods are torture.


  • FACT: U.S. officials who authorize or use “enhanced” interrogation techniques risk violating U.S. law and could face criminal prosecution. (Leave No Marks: ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality, Human Rights First, Physicians for Human Rights, 8/2/07)


  • FACT: The International Committee of the Red Cross has reportedly issued a report calling the C.I.A. techniques tantamount to torture. “Congressional and other Washington sources familiar with the report said that it harshly criticized the C.I.A.’s practices. One of the sources said that the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes. The source said the report warned that these officials may have committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the U.S. Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994. The conclusions of the Red Cross, which is known for its credibility and caution, could have potentially devastating legal ramifications.” (“The Black Sites, A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program,” Jane Mayer, The New Yorker8/13/07)


  • FACT: “Enhanced” interrogation techniques violate the law. For a detailed look at how and why these practices are illegal, check out HRF Washington Director Elisa Massimino’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 9/25/07

WSJ’s Tortured Argument: “What’s really at issue here is whether U.S. officials are going to have even the most basic tools to interrogate America’s enemies.”

  • FACT: World War II interrogators have recently spoken out saying they had the tools they needed to interrogate the Nazis – without resorting to torture.
  • “’We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,’ said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess.” (Washington Post10/6/07)
  • “’During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone,’ said George Frenkel, 87, of Kensington. ‘We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.’” (Washington Post10/6/07)
  • FACT: Experienced interrogators have testified that they possess the tools to garner intelligence using a “relationship-based” model. (See the testimony of interrogator Steven M. Kleinman before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 9/25/07)

WSJ’s Tortured Argument: “Newspaper accounts of the 2005 memos say “waterboarding,” or simulated drowning, is also allowed in the memos, which reflects the CIA’s view that this is especially effective in breaking hard cases rapidly. Reportedly, this technique was used against al Qaeda masterminds Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zebaydah. Waterboarding, by the way, is also part of interrogation-resistance training for some Americans, to prepare them to face the enemy if captured.”

  • FACT: The training mentioned by the WSJ was designed to prepare Americans for torture following capture – torture designed to produce false confessions, not intelligence. “Each branch of the U.S. military offers a variant of the sere [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape – a program which trains soldiers to endure captivity in enemy hands] training curriculum. The course simulates the experience of being held prisoner by enemy forces who do not observe the Geneva Conventions. The program evolved after American G.I.’s captured during the Korean War made false confessions under torture. Sure enough, those in sere training found that they would say anything to get the torment to stop.” (Vanity Fair7/17/07)


  • FACT: Standard, humane interrogation reportedly led to the collection of intelligence from Abu Zubaydah. “Zubaydah was stabilized at the nearest hospital, and the F.B.I. continued its questioning using its typical rapport-building techniques. An agent showed him photographs of suspected al-Qaeda members until Zubaydah finally spoke up, blurting out that “Moktar,” or Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, had planned 9/11. He then proceeded to lay out the details of the plot. America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely. It was an extraordinary success story. But it was one that would evaporate with the arrival of the C.I.A’s interrogation team.” (Vanity Fair7/17/07)


  • FACT: Zubaydah “myth” is being used to further the false idea that torture works. “The bitterest irony is that the tactics seem to have been adopted by interrogators throughout the U.S. military in part because of a myth that whipped across continents and jumped from the intelligence to the military communities: the false impression that reverse-engineered sere tactics were the only thing that got Abu Zubaydah to talk.” (Vanity Fair7/17/07)

WSJ’s Tortured Argument: “If Congress wants to outlaw this technique, it can do so. But it then has an obligation to say what is allowed.”

  • FACT: Unbeknownst to the Wall Street Journal, Congress already has outlawed this technique. During congressional debate, Senators Warner emphasized that Common Article 3’s broad prohibitions against inhumane treatment remain binding on all U.S. personnel, military and the CIA. (Congressional Record, 9/28/06)

WSJ’s Tortured Argument: “As it stands now, the scolds in Congress and the Beltway press have decided to impose their view that no pressure tactics are ever necessary or justified.”

  • FACT: Torture is never necessary or justified.

WSJ’s Tortured Argument: “The notion that the U.S. goes around unnecessarily ‘torturing’ people without any rationale whatsoever is so absurd that it is almost never stated explicitly. But it is equally awkward for the Administration’s critics to admit that the “coercive” methods listed in these memos to induce cooperation from al Qaeda operatives may actually work.”

  • FACT: It would be awkward because it’s not true – those with experience in interrogations say torture doesn’t work. “The best and most reliable information comes from people who are relaxed and perceive little threat. ‘Why would you use evasive training tactics to elicit information?’ says Dr. Michael Gelles, former chief psychologist of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The sere tactics aren’t just morally and legally wrong, critics say; they’re tactically wrong. They produce false leads and hazy memories. [Mitchell and Jessen] argue, ‘We can make people talk,'” says [Steve] Kleinman [an Air Force Reserve colonel and expert in human-intelligence operations] ‘I have one question. ‘About what?’’ As one military member who worked in the sere community says, ‘Getting somebody to talk and getting someone to give you valid information are two very different things.’” (Vanity Fair7/17/07)

    FACT: General Petraeus has said torture doesn’t work. Here’s General Petraues on torture: “Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.” (Letter from General Petraeus to U.S. troops in his command, 5/10/07)

    FACT: No systematic study has ever shown that the infliction of torture or coercion elicits reliable information or actionable intelligence. According to the U.S. Army’s own field manual on interrogation, published in September 2006, torture “is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the [human intelligence] collector wants to hear.” As veteran FBI interrogator Joe Navarro put it, “the only thing torture guarantees you is pain.” (Human Rights First, Primetime Torture Project)

WSJ’s Tortured Argument: “The critics of Bush policy want to have it both ways: They want to smear Administration officials with the generalization of ‘torture’ while washing their hands of any responsibility to say what kind of interrogation, if any, they favor.”

  • FACT: Many critics of the Bush Administration’s torture policies have put forward a model to follow – the Army Field Manual. The interrogation standards used by the military should be followed by officials in ALL government agencies.

Published on October 9, 2007


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