Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Shadow of Torture Part III

Greg Sargent is worried that Cheney has succeeded in shifting the torture debate from whether torture is ethical to whether it is effective. I don't share that view. To begin with, I'm not sure if the ethical question is completely clear cut, torture is horrible, but is it morally worse than collateral damage? Its hard to say what principle says it is.
Second, there's lots of good evidence that torture is ineffective, and any worth it might have is outweighed by massive down-sides of using it. This is the position of Dennis Blair in a classified memo. He acknowledged the US had gained information from torture (though one cannot say certainly that these results could not be obtained by other methods), but pointed out the downside outweighed any benefit. Tortures biggest critics have generally been those with the most experience with interrogation. the British, for example, have shied away from the rough-tough interrogations because they've already learned that this is ineffective in Northern Ireland, and further inflames terrorist violence.
Another quarter that criticism of the torture regime has come from is the FBI. In an article well worth reading, special agent Ali Soufan lays out the case.
One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.

Parenthetically, the op-ed adds
It’s worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not C.I.A. officers, who requested the use of these techniques.

I would hope that contractors wouldn't be allowed in these situations, and them setting policy is stunning. I suppose we see a link between privatization and human-rights abuse here.

1 comment:

PNRJ said...

I see the privatization-inhumanity link elsewhere as well!

For-profit enterprise seems to be singularly bad at protecting human rights.