Torture Takeaway: It's Not Effective

As Big Tent Democrat and the New York Times noted, Marcy Wheeler of Empty Wheel broke the story of the number of times the C.I.A. used waterboarding on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah. Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a month. That's an average of 6 times a day.

Doesn't this show the ineffectiveness of the technique? Particularly when it was only one of a number of coercive techniques that were used in tandem? (Others, according to the May 30, 2005 memo were facial and abdominal slapping,walling, sleep deprivation through shackling, nudity coupled with adult diapers.) Marcy has more on this here. [More...]

Also take a look at the May 10, 2005 memo which Marcy analyzes here to show the CIA exceeded the authorization contained in the memo when conducting waterboarding. More of Marcy's excellent analysis on the torture memos is here.

I particularly like her debunking of the claim by Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former CIA Director Michael Hayden (in Friday's Wall St. Journal) that half of the information the U.S. obtained on al-Qaeda came from coercive techniques. They wrote:

As already disclosed by Director Hayden, as late as 2006, even with the growing success of other intelligence tools, fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from those interrogations.

Bottom line: Bushco officials can spin it however they want but the documents speak for themselves and with excellent analyses like Marcy's, the truth will come out.

< TARP Repayment And A New Deck Chair Arrangement For The Banks | Supreme Court to Decide If Prosecutors Can Be Sued For Wrongful Conviction >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    One thing I think it tells us... (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by kdog on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 11:55:55 AM EST
    for sure, we can't believe a word these cats told the waterboarders.

    Your "bottom line" is correct (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by scribe on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 11:58:31 AM EST
    but, given Obama's cowardice and subsequent cave on prosecuting anyone for these atrocities, he has managed to facilitate those who would spin Hayden's bullsh*t lines about efficacy into pure gold.

    In so many words, if only one historical narrative is to have validity (as should be the case with torture and "torture is effective"), then the alternate narrative (pitched by Bushco and their fellow-travelers) has to be destroyed.  The most efficacious way of doing that is proving, in open court, that what the pro-torture folks have said are ... lies.

    No reasonable person questions today that, in fact, Scooter Libby was and remains a liar.  He was proven to be one.  And his claims are no longer respectable or even tenable.

    Given Obama's cowardice, the discussion about torture will continue into the foreseeable future and it will remain both respectable and within the bounds of reason for people to argue that torture is, in fact, effective.

    Thanks, Barry.

    6 times a day for one month (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by lilburro on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 12:22:59 PM EST
    is just so staggeringly inhumane and horrible, especially when you consider that in the past we would've treated KSM in a criminal court.  BTW the waterboarding was on top of all of THIS.  And reports have indicated that KSM said all kinds of things.  Jane Mayer:

    Without more transparency, the value of the C.I.A.'s interrogation and detention program is impossible to evaluate. Setting aside the moral, ethical, and legal issues, even supporters, such as John Brennan, acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable. As he put it, "All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus." When pressed, one former top agency official estimated that "ninety per cent of the information was unreliable." Cables carrying Mohammed's interrogation transcripts back to Washington reportedly were prefaced with the warning that "the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead." Mohammed, like virtually all the top Al Qaeda prisoners held by the C.I.A., has claimed that, while under coercion, he lied to please his captors.

    This is all just completely absurd.

    Except (1.00 / 0) (#7)
    by jbindc on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 12:41:12 PM EST
    Mohammed, like virtually all the top Al Qaeda prisoners held by the C.I.A., has claimed that, while under coercion, he lied to please his captors.

    I don't believe this for one second. He knows the American people don't have the stomach for torture, and knows the way the wind has blown politically with the election of a Democrat, so I can't take just his word that he lied to stop being tortured.  

    Do people lie when tortured? Yes, some do.  But as we cannot accept torture, we cannot also accept the good word of people like KSM.


    Um... (none / 0) (#10)
    by lilburro on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 12:56:45 PM EST
    the CIA point blank says in its cables - KSM lies.  It's right there in the same paragraph.  They knew he lied.

    You think MSNBC (none / 0) (#24)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 02:55:33 PM EST
    and the New York Times were part of the torture regime he was subjected to in isolation cells?

    You are implying (none / 0) (#30)
    by Jen M on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 05:02:00 PM EST
    People tell the truth under torture.

    So, when did all the American servicemen held by the Vietnamese lie? When they were being tortured or when they came back and said they lied?


    You are implying (none / 0) (#38)
    by jbindc on Tue Apr 21, 2009 at 08:34:21 AM EST
    that people always lie when tortured. I don't think it's all that black / white.

    the problem is who lies (none / 0) (#39)
    by Jen M on Tue Apr 21, 2009 at 10:45:22 AM EST
    the innocent certainly do.

    The not so innocent will too.

    The POW's tactic was to hold out as long as possible, give out as little as possible. Sell the truth at a high a cost as they could and lie lie lie.


    With the news that President Obama, (5.00 / 3) (#6)
    by Anne on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 12:29:50 PM EST
     and Eric Holder (whom I have come to think of as "Echoin'" Eric Holder, for his total agreement, so far, with whatever Obama says), apparently, do not believe anyone should be prosecuted for their contributions to a culture of torture, Bush administration officials can pretty much stop the spin, can't they?  They can just rebuff any negativity by stating their agreement with the Obama policy of moving forward and not playing the blame game and not making this about retribution (we are in serious trouble if the concept of "justice" has now been conflated with "retribution," a word that connotes revenge).

    I had a feeling, when others were claiming that Obama's initial statement said nothing about giving a get-out-of-jail-free card to those who wrote the memos or those who developed the policy, that he wasn't going to do the right thing.  That he was going to approach this as being strictly differences of policy, and not as potentially criminal acts.  But that's because he doesn't confront, he conciliates.  

    For me, and for all of us, for as long as those who did this are not made to face the consequences, he makes us all complicit in the acts; I just do not understand how he does not see that.

    "Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times (5.00 / 0) (#9)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 12:47:15 PM EST
    in a month.

    Not sure whether that helps or hinders the "waterboarding is torture" debate.

    I think the answer is pretty obvious (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by lilburro on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:01:00 PM EST
    otherwise Bush officials wouldn't have spent the past few years telling us "we only did it 3 times!" and "we only have 2 tapes!"

    Bush officials previously said waterboarding (none / 0) (#31)
    by Green26 on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 05:36:56 PM EST
    had been used on only 3 high level detainees. The recently released memos say the same thing.

    183 times? That's nothing... (none / 0) (#12)
    by NJDem on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:04:24 PM EST
    Memo: Two al Qaeda leaders waterboarded 266 times

    At one point will they admit it's not effective?  Is this really just some type of bloodlust.

    And finally, is this a country of laws or men?  

    To be continued...


    one = what (none / 0) (#13)
    by NJDem on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:04:54 PM EST
    At What Point (none / 0) (#19)
    by CDN Ctzn on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:46:58 PM EST
    will we admit that we are no better than a Bannana Republic and are ruled by Barbarians?

    We have been admitted to a Peep Show, (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by KeysDan on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:06:17 PM EST
    only to be frustrated by the premature descent of a curtain made of Gerald Ford-like pardons--pardons that would have included not only Nixon, but everyone involved all the way down to Watergate burglars Bernard Barker, James McCord, Frank Sturgis, Gordon LIddy, and E. Howard Hunt.

    Didn't even work to (5.00 / 2) (#15)
    by ruffian on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:07:22 PM EST
    make up a half-way believable Saddam - al Queda link, which I suspect was its real purpose (besides sheer sadistic retribution).

    Hope Obama doesn't think that his 'let bygones be bygones' attitude will carry over to the next Republican administration.

    Torture: a tie-in (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by mikef on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:41:42 PM EST
    Someone at Greenwald's site made the connection between the March 2003 over the top waterboarding and the lead up to the Iraq War in April 2003--namely, that the Bush admin was desparate to find evidence of a Sadaam-Al Quaeda link and were looking for admissions to this effect by the detainees--makes a lot of sense why the high number of torture events...

    And as I said above (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by ruffian on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:50:53 PM EST
    torture was not even effective in producing that link, much to Darth Vader Cheney's dismay.

    I didn't necessarily mean "we" ... (5.00 / 1) (#28)
    by sj on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 03:16:25 PM EST
    ...as a nation so much as I meant "we" as a collection of individual citizens.

    But your larger point is well taken.

    The enhanced interrogations were (2.00 / 0) (#32)
    by Green26 on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 05:57:48 PM EST
    effective, according to the recent memos.

    "Your office [CIA] has informed us that the CIA believes that "the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al-Qa'ida has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11, September 2001."  . . . . .  In particular, the CIA believes that it would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including KSM and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques.  . . . .  Indeed, before the CIA used enhanced techniques in its interrogation of KSM, KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, "Soon, you will know."  We understand that the use of enhanced techniques in the interrogations of KSM, Zubaydah, and others, by contrast, has yielded critical information.  . . . .  And, indeed, we understand that since the use of enhanced techniques, "KSM and Abu Zubaydah have been pivotal sources because of their ability and willingness to provide their analysis and speculation about the capabilities, methodologies, and mindsets of terrorists."

    pp. 8 and 9 from 2005 Bradbury. Multiple citations were omitted.

    Subsequent paras. provide various specific examples.

    Try reading (none / 0) (#36)
    by lilburro on Tue Apr 21, 2009 at 08:21:24 AM EST
    "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots."

    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.

    And the distortion of intelligence to serve political masters was the CIA's very business at the time.  Or are there WMD's in Iraq.


    not proven (1.00 / 0) (#33)
    by diogenes on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 10:19:36 PM EST
    The use of or potential use of enhanced interrogation in the first week after capture is probably useful in some cases.  After that, it is useless (information is stale and the subject won't break if he hasn't already).  
    If you'd rather not have the information, then that is a choice you make, but make the choice to never use torture on an informed basis.  
    I'm willing to be corrected--does the Israeli police/secret service NEVER use enhanced interrogation on ANYONE as a matter of state policy.  Do they prosecute mossad agents for using such techniques?  They've had a lot more experience under the gun than we have.

    Not proven? (none / 0) (#34)
    by Green26 on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 10:36:02 PM EST
    The quotes in my above quote are directly from the CIA.

    "Nudity coupled with adult diapers"? (none / 0) (#3)
    by No Blood for Hubris on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 12:11:39 PM EST
    Sounds like Senator Vitter.

    I guess that supports (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by Capt Howdy on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:20:46 PM EST
    the "torture is subjective" argument

    Owwww!! (none / 0) (#23)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 02:52:38 PM EST
    Phew!  You've been on quite a roll the last few days, Cap'n!  Remind me to try to avoid ever getting on your bad side.

    maybe that was in bad taste (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by Capt Howdy on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 02:59:46 PM EST
    Im bad with the whole taste thing.

    This is horrendous (none / 0) (#4)
    by jbindc on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 12:11:54 PM EST
    Torture doesn't work - that's been known for a while. And the administration needs to do more than they have.  But, (and I know this will be an unpopular view here) but using Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as an example of why torture really doesn't work and why it is bad does not move me.  Frankly, 183 times isn't enough for him.

    and so (5.00 / 3) (#17)
    by sj on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:34:21 PM EST
    we become the monster we abhor.

    Bingo! (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by CDN Ctzn on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 01:57:05 PM EST
    And what differentiates us from them? Certainly not our Human Rights position, certainly not the number of innocents that have been killed (by far we outnumber their total), certainly not the use of Weapons of Mass Distruction (we stand alone in that catagory)! So what differentiates us? The fact that our guys wear uniforms? The fact that our weapons are more sophisticated, and we have more of them? The fact that we don't need to employ suicide bombers to get the job done (we have drones, smart bombs, and don't ever have to see the faces of the ones we rain death upon)?
    What seperates us is that they are a Terrorist Organization, The world now views us as a Terrorist Nation.

    Well, if it's any consolation, I'm sure (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by Anne on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 02:27:00 PM EST
    it was way more than 183 times, unless there was a one-month limit on inflicting these techniques.

    That you think 183 times wasn't enough is the torture-as-retribution argument that the torture apologists would like more people to sign on to; it's the same argument people who support the death penalty will give you - people who commit heinous crimes deserve to die.

    At what point do we admit the obvious: that torture is a way to exact punishment and revenge and retribution without the messiness of the judicial system, with all its rules and regulations.  It lets people act on the basis of a presumption of guilt, thus turning our system on its head.  Wow, talk about a stress position.

    So, who are we?  And what do we aspire to be?  Do we believe in the principles or don't we?  Are we going to allow circumstance and popular sentiment to dicate the strength of our principles?

    I think those are questions Obama has not answered to my satisfaction by only delivering a sternly-worded lecture to those who carried out the torture, and a get-out-of-jail-free card to everyone else.


    You have to be kidding (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by eric on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 02:56:18 PM EST
    This is exactly the logic that torturers use.  If you are willing to accept torture to anyone, you have to accept torture for everyone because, guess what, there will always be somebody who will justify it.  

    You know... (none / 0) (#29)
    by inclusiveheart on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 03:42:37 PM EST
    Given the mendacious quality of the entire Bush Administration operation and the fact that there have been no trials, it is not impossible for me to think that it is possible that Kalid Sheikh Mohammed is not the monster they've made him out to be.  Just sayin' because aside from the fact that rationalizing torture by saying some one is a bad actor is a slipperly slope, one should consider the source and context here - there's just nothing unimpeachable about either in this case.  What do I know about any of these characters they've been talking about all these years?  The Bush Administration never had the guts to put them on trial.  All I know is Bush, Cheney et al say that these people are "bad guys", but at this point after all the exposed lies from that crowd how can one not have at least a tiny bit of doubt about the significance of this one prisoner or any of the others for that matter?

    Torture "Works" If You're Reason (none / 0) (#8)
    by tokin librul on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 12:47:07 PM EST
    is to extract confessions...

    or if your interest is in intimidation/complaince...

    It is a fundamentally sadistic regime.

    The problem is, torture does sometimes work. (none / 0) (#35)
    by MyLeftMind on Tue Apr 21, 2009 at 12:24:31 AM EST
    Any soldier can tell you that if you stab one of two prisoners in the knee and ask where their camp is, he'll probably tell you something.  If it proves to be wrong, and you kill him and then stab the next prisoner in the knee, you're likely to get a more truthful answer.  Especially if the second prisoner has reason to believe you'll let him live.

    Obviously, most soldiers won't give up their comrades, especially if they're already a prisoner at a POW camp.  But unfortunately, on the battlefield, torture works.  

    The problem is that terrorists being waterboarded are already trained and hardened.  They are prepared to and sometimes even eager to die, and may or may not have useful information.  If one person gives a list of five people involved in their cell, and another gives a matching list, it's likely to be deemed good information.  But wouldn't today's Jihadists be prepared with fake information?  

    The torture employed by the CIA is ineffective, but mostly because everyone knows that the U.S. can't torture.  As awful as it must have been, a hardened terrorist would simply wait it out.  Or just resist until death.  After all, it's all good if your religious brainwashing has you convinced you're fighting the good fight and will be rewarded after death.