August 30, 2009

Torture Doesn’t Work

Just Read the CIA Reports.

The CIA has finally released the documents that Dick Cheney claimed would vindicate the Bush administration’s torture—excuse me, “enhanced interrogation”—policy. According to Cheney, these documents demonstrate that the administration’s harsh methods yielded valuable, life-saving information. Not surprisingly, they demonstrate nothing of the sort.

The most important document released, a 2004 CIA Inspector General Report [.pdf], concludes that interrogation yielded valuable information—but nowhere in its 109 pages does it say that any of this information was obtained through enhanced interrogation. To the contrary, it claims that measuring the effectiveness of enhanced techniques is a “subjective process and not without some concern” (85), that “there is limited data on which to assess” the “individual effectiveness” of such techniques (89), that, although interrogation in general proved effective, “[t]he effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured” (100).

Indeed the report never gives a specific instance of enhanced techniques producing valuable information. The most it tells us is that Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed became more talkative after being waterboarded. Well of course they became more talkative after being waterboarded—but so what? As Jesse Ventura has quipped, “You give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.” The question we need to ask is, not whether waterboarding made these individuals more talkative, but whether it impelled them to say anything true, anything life-saving.

It seems clear that torture did not elicit any valuable intelligence from Zubaydah. As the Washington Post reported this past March:

…not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida—chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Similarly, al-Nashiri and Mohammed later admitted that they made all sorts of false confessions while being tortured. As Mohammed told [.pdf] the International Red Cross:

During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told the interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I’m sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the U.S.

Whether al-Nashiri and Mohammed also made true confessions under torture and whether these true confessions in turn saved American lives is something that we simply don’t know. But even if such were the case, it would still be possible that the same, or perhaps better, information could have been obtained through legal methods. Regarding Mohammed, Jane Mayer from The New Yorker recently told Keith Olbermann:

[A]s anybody knows who knows anything about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he was dying to tell the world, when he was interviewed by Al Jazeera before he was in US custody, about everything he knew and everything he did. He was proud of his role as the mastermind of 9/11. He loves to talk about it. So there’s no evidence that I see in this that these things were necessary. I spoke to someone at the CIA who was an advisor to them who conceded to me that “We could have gotten the same information from tea and crumpets.”

But of course we shouldn’t expect Cheney to admit any of this. For he realizes that the public’s demand to investigate Bush administration wrongdoing will only increase if more people understand how completely ineffective these torture policies were. And Cheney knows that, if such happens, he could very well be prosecuted for war crimes.

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