We’ve learned that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month. This begs the question: If torture is so good at extracting information, why did it need to be applied 183 times in one month?
Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. Of this, CIA officials have said,
The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.
In the end, though, 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.
Before he was waterboarded, Zubaida provided information that led to the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other al Qaeda operatives. Moreover, before the 83 waterboardings the Bush Administration already knew that Zubaida was not an al Qaeda insider. He wasn’t a member of al Qaeda at all. He worked directly with al Qaeda only after 9/11.
What do you want to bet that the torture of Zubaida and KSM was more about Iraq than al Qaeda? Zubaida was waterboarded in August 2002. We know that the decision to invade Iraq had been made by then, and that Bushies were busily fixing intelligence and facts around policy. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded in March 2003, the same month the Iraq invasion began. The Bushies wanted more “intelligence” that gave them permission to invade Iraq. Whether the intelligence was true or not wasn’t that important.
You cannot get a wingnut or ex-Bush Administration official to admit that waterboarding doesn’t work. As Timothy Rutten writes in today’s Los Angeles Times, since leaving office many Bush officials (especially ex-Veep Dick Cheney) have publicly declared that their “enhanced” interrogation techniques “worked” to extract valuable information from terrorists that foiled real terrorist plots.
The argument that torture gets the job done was made yet again Thursday, when a person identified only as a former top official in the Bush administration told Politico that release of the memos was “damaging because these are techniques that work. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time-bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake.”
As John Cole says, “There better be a pretty damned long fuse on that ticking time bomb.”
The part about “not being able to use the techniques again” makes no sense whatsoever. What techniques were used that surprised anyone? Waterboarding goes back to the bleeping Inquisition.
There is copious testimony from people with experience in intelligence that torture is not an effective tool for extracting useful information. For example, Rear Admiral (ret.) John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General for the Navy, said,
“The United States has been a strong, unwavering advocate for human rights and the rule of law for as long as you and I have been alive. I’m not ready to throw in the towel on that just because we are in a battle with some terrible people. In fact, in a war like this, when we are tempted to respond in kind, we must hold ever more dearly to the values that make us Americans. Torture, or “cruel, inhuman or degrading” conduct, are not part of our national character. Another objection is that torture doesn’t work. All the literature and experts say that if we really want usable information, we should go exactly the opposite way and try to gain the trust and confidence of the prisoners. Torture will get you information, but it’s not reliable. Eventually, if you don’t accidentally kill them first, torture victims will tell you something just to make you stop. It may or may not be true. If you torture 100 people, you’ll get 100 different stories. If you gain the confidence of 100 people, you may get one valuable story.” (Legal Affairs “Debate Club” January 27, 2005)
However, what you get from Bushies and Bushie apologists are vague claims and ticking time bomb scenarios. Of course, the perps can always hide behind “national security,” but I would argue that allowing this chapter of our history slide by unexamined is the greater long-term threat to our national security. As Rutten says,
There will be another terrorist attack on American soil eventually. If it occurs in the absence of a clear historical record of what the Bush/Cheney torture policies did or did not accomplish, those who supported the former administration will come roaring out of the weeds to charge that Americans died because their soft-headed countrymen were preoccupied with civil liberties and human rights.
The next time the wingnuts claim torture works, ask them to prove it.