Prove It

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.

15 thoughts on “Prove It

  1. Waterboarding 6 times a day!
    I think the point was to torture them until they came out with some BS that had at least some hint that might be tied into Iraq.
    I had relatives who were tortured in the USSR. The point for them was not to get information. They could have cared less. It was to dehumanize you to the point where you even turned on family and friends.
    The point here was to dehumanize, and tie someone, somehow, somewhere to Iraq. Bush’s now famous, “You’re not going to let me down, are you?” to Tenet, to me is proof.
    6 times a day. The cruelty is just unimaginable…

  2. Shuster substituted for Olbermann on Friday and he interviewed “Matthew Alexander” on why torture doesn’t work. He uses an alias for “security reasons”. He’s made the rounds before and was on KO and the Daily Show back in December.

    The take home from this former interrogator is that building relationships is the only effective way to get information. Being respectful of their religion and customs is the key to undoing the Al Qaeda propaganda and gaining cooperation.

    The interview is here.

  3. 183 times? At what point might it have occurred to these people that it wasn’t “working”? The 40th time? The 100th time? The 165th time? Why’d they even stop… who knows, maybe that 184th time would’ve been the charm…

  4. It’s should be obvious by now that all the pro-torture talking points are utter bullshit, and these two prisoners, and others, really were tortured for “revenge.” Whether it was the actual torturers, their COs, Rumsfeld, Cheney, or Bush himself who got their jollies from it, it was a sick and f***ing thing to do.

    I was also going to call it “pointless,” in the sense of having zero outcome; but the fact is, it also did irreparable harm to our national security, and our moral standing in the world.

  5. At what point might it have occurred to these people that it wasn’t “working”? The 40th time?

    I imagine the following phone call:

    CIA Interrogator: Mr. Libby? We interrogated the subject five times today, and he isn’t telling us anything useful. Well, um, yes sir, we asked him about the aluminum tubes and the mobile chemical weapons lab. He just babbles. Tell you the truth, sir, he’s not home any more, if you catch my drift. Can you tell the Vice President there’s no point … the Vice President is ordering us to interrogate him again? That’s a direct order? Well, yes sir, we can do that, but don’t expect … no, we won’t give up, sir. We’re thinking positive, sir. Thank you, sir. [click]

  6. Effing stupid. I meant to say effing stupid, above.

    The preview function is only as good as its user.

  7. Do see Paul Rosenberg’s “De-Nazify America series”:

    Pt 1: The Post WW2 Model
    Pt 2: Honor Those Who Struggled Against the Darkness. Protect Those Who Will.


    America is not Nazi Germany. But over the last 7+ years America came much closer to looking and feeling like Nazi Germany than almost anyone would have imagined beforehand. Torture became officially–if secretly and surreptiously–part of the law of the land. Not only were war crimes authorized and committed from the highest offices in the land, and violations of constitutional rights made routine, but those who dared stand up against this darkness were vilified, persecuted, and made to suffer for doing what was right.

    We have pulled ourselves back from the abyss–but only just barely and tentatively, with no assurances of what the morrow may bring, especially if economic recession should deepen and prolong over a period of several years. That is why President Obama’s pledge not to prosecute CIA agents who committed war crimes is so deeply troubling….

    We are–whether we admit it or not–much more deeply wounded as a nation than any of our political elites are willing to admit. They will not face up to what has been done in our names. We must force them to do so.

  8. Maha, I have a sad feeling that your imagined phone call isn’t far from the truth.

    Even if you were able to believe that waterboarding would work to provide usable information the first time or three, how can you possibly explain how it would still work after the first 150 times? By then, it’s got to be clear that, if they wanted to drown you, they would have by now, so you know you’ll live through it. Particularly once they’ve had to revive you a few times. Of course, by then you might be hoping they would drown you, just to get it over with. But you’ve also proven that you can make it stop by telling them any kind of whacky shit you can invent, so really it’s all about suffering long enough that they’ll believe your fiction.

    I don’t believe waterboarding is effective the first time, but I really don’t get how even those people who do believe in it can imagine it would be effective the way it was used here.

    At the frequency it was being used, it’s all about the sadism and punishment, it’s not about “interrogation”. I’m also guessing that, after a while, they became training exercises, where the point was to train torturers, not to actually get any intelligence whatsoever.

  9. Sorry to say this, but I still think that since the bush/ cheney folks think that it works so well and that it is not torture that they would not mind if our CIA used the technique on bush and cheney to get to the bottom of the war crimes bush and cheney are guilty of .Something tells me we would have the answers we want in a lot less than 183 times. I find the technique to be sickening and beneath human behavior, but if the people who we use it on don’t mind….well…maybe we could make an exception? They tell us it is not torture and it is no worse than a college prank and it works! Shit, a truth commission can’t promise that!…I am just saying before we retire all of that un- used waterboarding stuff maybe?….Come on…. we can make a day of it if we just add some of those wasted tea bags to the water… we can have tea boarding parties! We can torture for info and protest Obama at the same time!!!! It’s the amerikan way! Maybe we could make it into a pay per view event and ease the tax burden on those poor poor rich folks paying all those un- godly taxes.

    Teaboarding….. don’t say anything yet, let it seep in your minds for awhile, add honey and lemon and that is just nice! Not torture! Waterboarding ? With just plain water for your guests???? How rude! But make it tea- and viola! Its not torture, it’s just polite!I am surprised woo didn’t think of this!Where were the tea baggers when the GOP really needed them?

  10. I’ve often thought, and have read opinions here and elsewhere, that Bush is a sociopath. The linked article could have been written just about him. I especially like “Reckless disregard for safety of self or others” and “Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.”

    Sometimes sociopaths abuse animals for fun. This one executed people in Texas, and tortured people in Gitmo. And based on the smirking when talking about both, I’d say he enjoyed it. There was never any point to it.

    Cheney? He’s just a power-hungry, sick f*ck.

  11. I’m also guessing that, after a while, they became training exercises, where the point was to train torturers, not to actually get any intelligence whatsoever.

    Either training exercises…. or just good old fun.

    One thing we can be sure of is that neither one of those two suspects will ever see the inside of an American courtroom.

  12. If torture is so good at extracting information, why did it need to be applied 183 times in one month?

    Uh, they were enjoying themselves?

    There is always a litany of excuses that can be used for just about anything…the costs were too great to take any chances…we had to be thorough, they aren’t like us, just look what they did to Daniel Perl, they will think we are weak otherwise etc. etc.

    All of these excuses are profligately laced with the use of “they” and lack any clear-headed notion of determining whether “this one” or “that one” is one of “them”, if indeed someone even bought into lambasting entire cultures, civilizations, ethnicities, or nations as some imagined, homogeneous “they.”

    They just seem unhinged and ready to wet themselves at the drop of a hat.

    Bush enabled so much and took the lid off a Pandora’s box of unthinkable acts. His pathetic “little man” syndrome cost us more than can ever be measured by letting the fearful act out their worst fears on others.

Comments are closed.