Information Secured Through Torture Proved Unreliable, CIA Concluded

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Information Secured Through Torture Proved Unreliable, CIA Concluded

Peter Finn and Joby Warrick at the Washington Post:

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him. 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.

Lie No. 1: We do not torture. Since that doesn't work any more, it's time for the fallback.

Lie No. 2: We saved thousands of American lives by torture.

Note that Dick Cheney makes bald claims to the effect that the security and safety of the nation rests on the use of torture techniques that he introduced and hammered down on intelligence agents who didn't want to use them. He doesn't ever cite a for-instance. When pressed, he insists that this is all "top secret." This is another instance of the use of security classifications to cover lies-in this case, lies on top of other lies.

The truth is very clear. President Bush's torture techniques provided our terrorist adversaries with their most compelling recruitment theme ever. Thousands were mustered to their side as a result. Four thousand Americans died in Iraq as a consequence, and thousands of other Americans suffered severe injuries from IEDs and other attacks. And the balance? Did America secure any meaningful, actionable intelligence through the use of torture? Let's turn to Bush's FBI Director for the answer. Here's the close of David Rose's memorable recent article in Vanity Fair:

I ask Mueller: So far as he is aware, have any attacks on America been disrupted thanks to intelligence obtained through what the administration still calls "enhanced techniques"? "I'm really reluctant to answer that," Mueller says. He pauses, looks at an aide, and then says quietly, declining to elaborate: "I don't believe that has been the case."

Scott Horton

Scott Horton is a Contributing Editor of Harper's Magazine and lectures at Columbia Law School.  He is also a member of the board of the National Institute of Military Justice, the Andrei Sakharov Foundation, the EurasiaGroup and the American Branch of the International Law Association.

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