It’s Hard to Get Past the Anger, Part III: It Doesn’t Work


The Senate Intelligence Committee Torture Report is too big and complicated to address in a single post. Besides, WC is too angry right now to coherently discuss and analyze what the Report means to America and Americans. So WC will approach the issues in a series of shorter posts. In Part III, WC looks at whether torture “worked.”

Suppose John Yoo’s legal sophistry was true; suppose that the criminal definition of “torture” doesn’t apply and that the Bush-Cheney Administration’s “War on Terror” is somehow magically exempted from the United Nations Convention on Torture. Assume torture isn’t the filthy, degrading, immoral, inhumane and vicious business that it really is.

Did it get us useful intelligence?

No.

Senate Committee Study of the Effectiveness of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, page 2

Senate Committee Study of the Effectiveness of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, page 2

Again, let’s be clear about this: the torture of several hundred persons, the death of at least two, didn’t get the CIA anything it didn’t already know. In some cases, the CIA tortured detainees – many of them detained illegally – after they had provided useful information during non-coerced interrogation. The CIA tortured them for no reason, or out of sadism, which is worse than no reason. Senator Diane Feinstein (D, California), who has seen the thousands of pages of documents for which the public document is only a heavily redacted, executive summary, is unambiguous: there are no known instances in which torture garnered new intelligence.

Senate Committee Study of the Effectiveness of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, page 3

Senate Committee Study of the Effectiveness of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, page 3

Nor does torture produce criminal convictions. Once you torture a prisoner, you lose the ability to bring them to a public trial. The torture makes everything they said inadmissible, and generally results in a mistrial or a dismissal of charges. As a matter of criminal law, torture is highly counterproductive.

So if torture doesn’t get you reliable information and make criminal proceedings embarrassing and impossible, what does it do?

Well, it makes the world less safe for Americans, who can be captured and tortured in return. It makes the world less safe for American soldiers, for much the same reason. It makes America’s reputation a lot more sordid, and seriously hampers our ability to do anything about the human rights violations in other nations. What WC’s grandmother would call the pot calling the kettle “black.” Whatever moral authority the country had is in tatters. International conventions restricting total war are likely less effective, when the world’s biggest superpower disregards them.

The idea that the United States is some kind of city on the hill, a shining example for the world, has been made laughable.

The Bush-Cheney Administration was caught out by 9/11. They had the information to prevent the terrorism, and failed to do so. Embarrassed, humiliated, they lashed out by punishing everyone. Consider Gul Rahman, who was  beaten, kept awake for 48 hours, kept in total darkness for days, thrown into the Gestapo-pioneered cold bath treatment, and then chained to a wall and left to die of hypothermia. The factors in his death included “dehydration, lack of food, and immobility due to ‘short chaining.”

When Vice President Cheney was told of Rahman’s horrific death, he reportedly said,

3,000 Americans died on 9/11 because of what these guys did, and I have no sympathy for them. I don’t know the specific details … I haven’t read the report … I keep coming back to the basic, fundamental proposition: how nice do you want to be to the murderers of 3000 Americans?

But Gul Rahman had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 plot. He didn’t murder anyone, let alone Americans. He was a guard to Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,  one-time U.S. ally and  part of an organization that began by fighting the Soviets in occupied Afghanistan. It had alliances with al Qaeda at the time, but subsequently engaged in peace negotiations with the Karzai government.

For Dick Cheney to equate Gul Rahman with the terrorists who attacked America is deranged.

The bottom line: ill-conceived, ill-designed, badly administered and, ultimately, counterproductive to the long- and short-term interests of the United States. It gave us no intelligence of any value, and hurt the credibility of the U.S., alienating allies and compromising friends.

This is the real Bush-Cheney legacy.

Update: Andrew Sullivan has a thorough, meticulous take-down on the eight most common claims that the CIA’s torture program prevented terrorist plots. He rebuts the claims made by CIA Director John Brennan as recently as yesterday.

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