November 11, 2010

George W. Bush and Waterboarding. Again.

Bill O’Reilly, defending President Bush’s decision to waterboard Abu Zubaida, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

In a time of war—and that’s what we’re in with Muslim jihadists—you have to do things you would not ordinarily do. For example, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. So to waterboard three high-ranking terror suspects in order to get valuable information that likely saved thousands of lives seems to be logical and responsible unless you live in a theoretical world where feeling noble is the ultimate objective.

Now first of all, just because Abe Lincoln did something doesn’t make it morally right. Abe Lincoln wasn’t a god. If one honestly looks at history, it’s actually difficult to avoid the conclusion that he was something of a monster. So appealing to his suspension of habeas corpus in no way justifies George W. Bush’s decision to torture defenseless human beings.

Second, there’s simply no evidence that Bush’s decision to waterboard these three men gained “valuable information that likely saved thousands of lives.” A 2004 CIA Inspector General Report [.pdf] discusses the interrogation of these men in some detail. Although the report concludes that interrogation yielded valuable information, nowhere in its 109 pages does it say that any of this information was obtained through waterboarding or any other enhanced interrogation technique. 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 Zubaida, 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 Zubaida. As the Washington Post reported in March 2009:

…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 has 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 [enhanced techniques] 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.”

So Bill O’Reilly, as Bill O’Reilly is wont to do, can go on telling lies in defense of his favorite criminal-in-chief, but I think the historical record speaks for itself.


Anonymous said...

Uh, you do know that the Abraham Lincoln "war crimes" site that you linked to was an alternate history fiction story, right?

For one thing, it's about the "North American War of Secession of 1861-63" not the Civil War, which lasted from 1861-1865. General Hancock was never President, Lincoln was never captured, etc., etc., etc.

I realize it's a blog, not a research paper but come on. Check your reference a little bit.

Don Emmerich said...

I simply made a mistake and linked to the wrong article. No need to be such a jerk about it.

Here's a better link regarding Lincoln's war crimes: