Torture Proponents Struggle to Get Their Story Straight

Most Americans were still trying to absorb the stunning news about Osama Bin Laden when torture supporters began to claim victory for their cause. Never mind the bravery and skill of the Navy Seals or the diligence of intelligence analysts or the leadership of President Obama. Nope, the big story was the total awesomeness of torture. “The road to bin Laden began with water-boarding,” Congressman Peter King said, kicking off a string of fact-free claims from prominent supporters of torture. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said torture “probably” helped in the hunt. His daughter Liz Cheney of Keep America Safe went further. “That debate is over,” she said. “It worked. It got the intelligence.” Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s first statement must have panicked the pro-torture team. He said it wasn’t torture but “normal interrogation approaches” that led to “beneficial” information. But he quickly got back on message. “It’s clear that those techniques that the CIA used worked,” he said. These assertions did their job, as the press declared that the death of Bin Laden had reopened the debate over torture. But now that the debate had been joined, the torture supporters needed actual, you know, evidence. Facts. Or at least details. Something more…authoritative-seeming. Jose Rodriguez, who ran the CIA counterterrorism unit under Bush, delivered it in an interview with Time. “Information provided by KSM and Abu Faraj al-Libbi about bin Laden’s courier was the lead information that eventually led to the location of [bin Laden’s] compound and the operation that led to his death.” Wow. The “lead information.” Persuasive. But come to think of it, he didn’t say that the information came out during torture. That spin-job fell to former Bush Attorney General, Mike Mukasey, who wrote in the Wall Street Journal “It began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included water-boarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.” Case closed, it seems. Water-boarding got the nickname of Bin Laden’s courier (Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.) The torture champions win, right? Well, no. A number of media reports and statements from government officials have explained that water-boarding and other brutal techniques didn’t, in fact, produce the important intelligence in question. The Al Qaeda detainees withheld it while providing false information. This was confirmed by Senator John McCain on the Senate floor yesterday. Having spoken to CIA Director Leon Panetta and staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator McCain said that none of the detainees “who were water-boarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda… the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden — was obtained through standard, non-coercive means.” The less dishonest supporters of torture have contended with these confounding facts. It’s a conundrum: If torture didn’t work, how can you claim it worked? Bush’s CIA Director Michael Hayden devised an approach. “I’m willing to concede the point that no one gave us valuable or actionable intelligence while they were, for example, being water-boarded. The purpose of the enhanced interrogation techniques was to take someone who was refusing to cooperate with us and to accelerate the process by which we would move from a zone of defiance to a zone of cooperation.” From a zone of defiance to a zone of cooperation: that’s jargon for breaking. The purpose of torture, according to Hayden, isn’t to efficiently extract information but to so wreck a person that he might give up information at some point in the future. Here’s the place where I should point out that torture is not only stupid but immoral. John Yoo, author of the infamous “Torture Memos,” came up with the most innovative argument. And by innovative I mean ridiculous. In USA Today, he wrote, “Just because Mohammed and al-Libi tried to deflect attention from the courier doesn’t undermine the success of interrogation. Their efforts to mislead, when compared with other interrogations, raised red flags.” So Yoo’s argument is that torture elicited…evasions. Got that? If the CIA tortures detainees and they don’t talk about something, it’s well on its way toward cracking the case. Yup, these “attempts to deflect attention” during torture led directly to Bin Laden—seven years later.


Published on May 13, 2011


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