This issue is one of those cases where no matter how much contrary evidence you produce — no matter how unimpeachable your sources are, the other side will simply plug their ears, sing “la-la-la-not-listening!” then regurgitate the same response over and over. In this case, their refrain is, “Torture worked, and we were scared after 9/11.” It’s like debating a brick wall or a member of a cult — with apologies to walls and cult members. The tactic, of course, is to repeat the same nonsense over and over until it feels truthy.
And to be fair, they’re half right. Sort of. In the wake of September 11, Americans were utterly terrified and probably would’ve acquiesced to allowing the CIA to do whatever the hell it wanted as long as the evildoers were smoked out. But one of the reasons why we have national security and law enforcement officials is to serve as cooler heads in a crisis; to make rational decisions that history can live with based on our long-term values, rather than catering to the panicked whimsy of a horrified, shell-shocked public.
The other half of the refrain, “torture worked,” has always been horseshit and ultimately irrelevant.
Almost immediately following the release of the Intelligence Committee’s mind-blowing summary report on the Bush-era use of torture in the Global War on Terrorism, three former Central Intelligence Agency chiefs along with their deputies published an extended, predictably defensive cover-your-ass response in the pages of the most receptive, unchallenging forum possible: The Wall Street Journal editorial page. George Tenet, Porter Goss and Gen. Michael Hayden, along with deputies John McLaughlin, Albert Calland and Admiral Stephen Kappes, essentially wrote “torture worked” over and over again using 2,400 words, hoping enough readers will give up and exclaim, “Okay! Fine!”
See if you can tell what they left out of their primary counter-argument:
First, its claim that the CIA’s interrogation program was ineffective in producing intelligence that helped us disrupt, capture, or kill terrorists is just not accurate. The program was invaluable in three critical ways:
• It led to the capture of senior al Qaeda operatives, thereby removing them from the battlefield.
• It led to the disruption of terrorist plots and prevented mass casualty attacks, saving American and Allied lives.
• It added enormously to what we knew about al Qaeda as an organization and therefore informed our approaches on how best to attack, thwart and degrade it.
A powerful example of the interrogation program’s importance is the information obtained from Abu Zubaydah, a senior al Qaeda operative, and from Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, known as KSM, the 9/11 mastermind. We are convinced that both would not have talked absent the interrogation program.
Answer? The word “enhanced,” as in “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs), was suspiciously and conspicuously absent from the start. This is important because the CIA also used other non-torture interrogation methods that, in fact, worked. These guys are clearly obfuscating what happened by speaking in generalities rather than coming out and saying, “When we waterboarding so-and-so, or forced another so-and-so to stand in a stress position on his broken legs, we eventually learned where Bin Laden was hiding.”
And besides, one interrogation expert after another has sworn that “enhanced interrogation techniques” don’t work. Detainees end up saying any old thing just to make the pain stop. Here’s Special Agent Joe Navarro, a (I’ll just copy and paste his bio) 25-year veteran of the FBI where he served as both an agent and a supervisor:
Torture is not an effective way to get information, and the American people need to know that. That’s why the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogation and detention after 9/11 is important. […]
I recall when I learned that cruel techniques were being used. I spoke with several long-term CIA officers and CIA polygraph experts with whom I had worked over many years, and we were all appalled, not just by its immorality, but because we knew it would be counterproductive.
This article wasn’t published in Mother Jones or The Nation. It was published by Fox News Channel.
Professional interrogators have lined up in opposition to enhanced interrogation simply because it does not work, and if it doesn’t work, it’s ineffective and therefore makes us less safe.
Here are another 20 names: Retired CIA officer Frank Anderson, former DIA Guantanamo interrogator Jennifer Bryson, Bronze Star Award-winning interrogator in Iraq Tony Camerino, DEA veteran Donald Canestraro, former CIA counterterrorism strategist Glenn Carle, former Immigration and Customs director Charles DeVita, covert CIA operative Barry Eisler, Army Arabic linguist Eric Fair, national security consultant Mark Fallon, Brigadier General David Irvine, USA (Ret.), Colonel Steven Kleinman, USAF, Colonel Brittain Mallow (Ret.), NCIS special agent Mike Marks, law enforcement veteran Robert McFadden, NCIS veteran Matthew E. Parsons, Army interrogator William Quinn, former FBI agent Oliver “Buck” Revell, Ken Robinson, Mike Rolince and Lieutenant General Harry Soyster, USA (Ret). All of these experts agreed in a printed statement, “Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are illegal, ineffective, counterproductive, and immoral.”
You know who else determined that EITs are ineffective? The CIA. According to a document first published by Kurt Eichenwald in his groundbreaking book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, and subsequently covered in the Intelligence Committee’s summary yesterday, the techniques didn’t produce actionable intelligence that hadn’t been ascertained using other methods. From the summary:
[A]ccording to CIA records, seven of the 39 CIA detainees known to have been subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques produced no intelligence while in CIA custody. CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were usually subjected to the techniques immediately after being rendered to CIA custody. Other detainees provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to these techniques.
Torture produced useful intel less frequently than other methods. Information was volunteered even without the use of torture. But some who might have volunteered useful information were never given the chance, as the CIA showed a predilection for torturing first and asking questions later. And those who were tortured did what they could to end the torment.
While being subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and afterwards, multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence. Detainees provided fabricated information on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.
Put another way, if your goal is to hammer a nail into a wall, you might be able to get the job done by bashing the nail with your clenched fist until your hand is a bloody stump. Or you can use a more effective technique, like a hammer. Duh. The CIA basically opted to reject effective and moral interrogation techniques and went with a far less effective means that’s absolutely damaged America’s reputation and endangered American lives.
And that leads us to the over-arching counterpoint to this ridiculous “torture works” crapola.
It doesn’t matter.
Let’s say it worked like gangbusters — it doesn’t, but let’s suppose it does. It’s deeply immoral, for so many reasons, and it’s a violation of international treaties. What we read about yesterday, including the waterboarding, beatings, stress positions and rectal force-feeding are all torture techniques. It’s the sort of thing our enemies do, but which we should never do. It’s efficacy or lack of efficacy should be entirely irrelevant to the discussion. Hell, we could unilaterally nuke every town and village from Gaza to Tora-Bora. It might work to kill some terrorists, and it might even prevent another 9/11 attack (maybe), but the world would line up against us, and whatever national security gains we might reap from the effort, we’d surely experience decades of blowback and perhaps exponentially more 9/11-style attacks than would’ve otherwise occurred. Whether torture “works” isn’t the hinge in this debate, any more than it’d be if Bush and Cheney had rounded up all American Muslims in the United States and shoved them into concentration camps.
What the previous administration failed to understand is that maintaining a strong national defense has to include preserving an ethical and moral high ground, in addition to the basics — weapons and soldiers. Most foreign policy and national security disasters have occurred when the government abandons that high ground out of fear or zealotry. And we still don’t know the full extent to which this disaster will come back to haunt us in very deadly ways. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said yesterday:
“I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea…that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”
That’s the beginning and the end of any debate on this issue. There is nothing else.