FAIR PLAY / SUBSTANTIAL JUSTICE

surprise surprise, torture doesn’t work

Posted in Uncategorized by Ryan Locke on April 6, 2009

A few days ago, The Washington Post broke this story:

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.

Here’s a Washington Post blog entry that puts the final nail in the coffin:

All the calculations the Bush White House claims to have made in its decision to abandon long-held moral and legal strictures against abusive interrogation turn out to have been profoundly flawed, not just on a moral basis but on a coldly practical one as well.

Indeed, the Post article raises the even further disquieting possibility that intentional cruelty was part of the White House’s motive.

The most charitable interpretation at this point of the decision to torture is that it was a well-intentioned overreaction of people under enormous stress whose only interest was in protecting the people of the United States. But there’s always been one big problem with that theory: While torture works on TV, knowledgeable intelligence professionals and trained interrogators know that in the real world, it’s actually ineffective and even counterproductive. The only thing it’s really good as it getting false confessions.

So why do it? Some social psychologists (see, for instance, Kevin M. Carlsmith on NiemanWatchdog.org) have speculated that the real motivation for torture is retribution.

And now someone with first-hand knowledge is suggesting that was a factor in Zubaida’s case.

Quoting a “former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Abu Zubaida,” Finn and Warwick write that the pressure on CIA interrogators “from upper levels of the government was ‘tremendous,’ driven in part by the routine of daily meetings in which policymakers would press for updates…

“‘They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new,’ the official said. ‘They’d say, “You aren’t working hard enough.” There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution — a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.'”‘

To review: in 24, torture is a good idea and works all the time.  In real life, torture is a bad idea and doesn’t work at all.

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