The Justification of Torture Gets Obliterated Part Two – Abu Zabaydah

Continued from part one...

Now comes the most laughable defense of torture I could ever imagine:

Rodriguez argued that deceptiveness proved the usefulness of the technique.

He is stating that lies told by suspects that sent the CIA on costly wild goose chases to nowhere are useful.  This is almost childish in nature by trying to say “we knew you were fooling us all along but just played it out anyway so jokes on you!”  I guess what we take away from this is we have to torture people so we can get the lies out of them because that does us a lot of good.  (Not really as will be shown later).

Then comes the section on Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation.  He was arrested in May 2002 and waterboarding was approved four months later in August.  This window is important to keep in mind as pointed out by the FBI agent who interrogated Zubaydah:

Soufan (FBI) said in an interview that the information Abu Zubaydah revealed during the early period of his interrogation was not restricted to KSM’s alias and Padilla: “[I]t’s not only Padilla, it’s basically everything. Everything that we know about Abu Zubaydah came from when we arrested him until May.”

But Zubaydah was a hardened Islamist who was reported to be the Al Qaeda number 3 man at the time behind OBL and al-Zawahiri, right?  Surely with enough torture he would give valuable info, right?  Not so much.  He apparently would give info interrogators wanted to believe and showed he was not all that hardcore on the religion.

Abu Zubaydah seemed less religiously motivated than many other detainees. At times, Soufan said, “I felt that [I was] talking to a Che Guevara…He received long lectures from Abu Zubaydah about “how corporations are actually running the world, running America.”…“Abu Zubaydah is not an al-Qaeda member. We knew that at the time, but the moment we arrested Abu Zubaydah, the President was saying he’s the number three guy in al-Qaeda.”…But CIA analysts “convinced themselves he’s number three” and that “[i]f he’s not admitting he’s number three, then he’s not cooperating. Well, 83 sessions [of waterboarding] and he admitted he’s number three.”

Yet another example of the torturers believing a lie.  This time it was one they actually conjured and not the detainee.  Jokes on…someone.  Not sure who.

Then comes the issue of Rodriguez destroying the tapes that contained the torture and interrogation of Zubaydah.  (I addressed this in the review of the 60 Minutes interview, here).  The study notes Rodriguez took it upon himself to do this and went over the head of his superiors when he destroyed them.  His reasoning was to protect the identities of those in the video and not give more fodder for hatred of the U.S. like the Abu Ghraib photos.  Seems to be more the latter since it is stated the interrogators were all wearing ski masks during the torture.  And, seriously, you couldn’t just give the audio of Zubaydah telling you all that good info?  Or is it that he gave you a bunch of garbage and you didn’t want to be embarrassed by that?  Judge for yourselves.

The Justification of Torture Gets Obliterated Part One – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Any debate concerning the use of torture on suspects always contains an accepted assumption about the tactic: torture works by giving law enforcement actionable intelligence leading to more arrests/stopping of crime.  The big problem with this assumption is none of it is actually true.

The Constitution Project released a bipartisan study this week stating the United States did, in fact, torture as a tactic in the ongoing War on Terror begun under the Bush Administration.  The study was co-chaired by Asa Hutchinson.  You may recognize the name from his recent stint heading up the NRA’s ridiculous school safety plan so this obviously was not a study put together by a bunch of radical leftists.

The key reason why this study particularly destroys the justification of torture is that it addresses some of the key factors many torture advocates point to as examples of how it allegedly works.  The three key pieces of info it debunks:

  • That Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) gave up his valuable info while being tortured.
  • That Abu Zubaydah gave up his valuable info while being tortured.
  • That the plot to bring down the Library Tower in Los Angeles with hijacked planes was thwarted through intelligence gathered by torture.

This is followed by an interesting section on false confessions that I will touch on at the end.

The critical part of this study I’m referring to begins on page 262 in a section entitled “Assertions of Useful Information Obtained Through Coercion”.  Let’s look at the many highlights of this part of the report.

After the death of Osama bin Laden (OBL), some asserted KSM broke under the pressure of torture and squealed the name of OBL’s courier, the man that eventually led the U.S. to OBL’s hideout in Pakistan.  Not true:

According to an American official familiar with KSM’s interrogation, KSM wasn’t asked about al-Kuwaiti until the fall of 2003, months after his waterboarding had concluded. KSM reportedly acknowledged having known al-Kuwaiti but told his interrogators al-Kuwaiti was “retired” and of little significance.

This backs up a fact pointed out last year in a 60 Minutes interview with torture advocate and former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, Jose Rodriguez, who is mentioned heavily in this part of the study.  I noted in a post last year that Rodriguez is not only admitting torture failed in this instance but also showing even a highly trained person like him can’t actually tell when someone is lying or telling the truth, a point I’ll return to later.

Then it is stated important info about the courier came from a man named Hassan Ghul.  Ghul was tortured but it seems there is a little problem with the timing of the torture and when he gave up the info:

In May 2011 Sen. Dianne Feinstein told Reuters about a CIA detainee who “did provide useful and accurate intelligence.” But she added at the time: “This was acquired before the CIA used their enhanced interrogation techniques against the detainee.” Three U.S. officials told Reuters that Feinstein was referring to Ghul…Hassan Ghul, “did provide relevant information” about al-Kuwaiti, but “he did so the day before he was interrogated by the CIA using their coercive interrogation techniques.”

In short, the info came first and the torture second.

Breaking Down What Ex-CIA Agent Rodriguez Said in 60 Minutes Interview

The interview with Jose Rodriguez, former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, was both fascinating and horrifying as he did his best to defend the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used on terrorism suspects in the years after 9/11.  So much of what he said could have been delved into deeper and the interview could have gone on for another hour yet still not covered everything.  I’d like to highlight some of the things he said and the weakness of his defense of torture.

We made some al Qaeda terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days.

This is a tricky quote to some extent.  It suggests the torture was only performed on known terrorists and in the case of the CIA only (and not including the other branches of defense) that might be accurate.  But we know innocent people were tortured and in some cases died due to torture while in U.S. custody.  He also contradicts himself later about the idea of this torture just being “a few days” for some suspects when he talks about sleep deprivation for a week at a time in at least one case.  Maybe some members gave up information after a few days but he gives zero examples of that.

So we were facing a ticking, time bomb situation.

This is a common defense of torture by its advocates.  The scenario is a bomb is ticking, someone has been caught who has info on its whereabouts, and he is tortured because he won’t give up the location.  Which works really well…in movies, not so much in reality.  In fact, I’m not sure how this idea gets lumped in with suicidal terrorists.  How many bombs have been placed with a timer by Islamic terrorists?  I’m guessing the number is around zero since the vast majority are suicide bombers.  The “ticking, time bomb” defense is ridiculous when applied to al Qaeda’s actual tactics.

At first, FBI interrogators used their standard interviewing techniques with no coercion, and Abu Zubaydah cooperated, giving tips and leads but–

Jose Rodriguez: After he regains his strength he stopped talking…He shuts down.

Or did he just not know anything else?  Rodriguez backs up the idea he had more information with virtually no evidence.  It’s pointed out in the story the FBI claims he gave up everything he knew prior to the torture.  But someone assumed he knew more and was lying that he didn’t, which we can’t be sure of.  Rodriguez defends this by stating:

He gave us a road map that allowed us to capture a bunch of Al Qaeda senior leaders.

He is angry but noticeably stumbles at this point in the interview before he says “a bunch.”  It was as if he knew he needed to give something reasonably logical and important here but could come up with nothing.  He clearly wanted to be able to give a number or a few names of captured terrorists to corroborate his claim but fails.

Then the interview immediately shifts to Khalid Sheik Mohammed so we are left to assume his capture may have resulted from the enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah.  This is not properly delved into by 60 Minutes at this point since we don’t know that to be true nor do we know if that capture came from the information the FBI got prior to the torture.

People don’t understand that this program was not about hurting anybody.

Wow.  People died because of the bodily harm inflicted by this program.  This statement is the equivalent of someone robbing a bank and in the process of robbing that bank, they shoot and kill everyone in the bank.  Then when they are put on trial their lawyer asks the murder charges to be thrown out because the crime committed was just about robbing the bank and “not about hurting anybody.”  Clever attempt to dance around that one, Mr. Rodriguez.  Sadistic, but clever.

But many of the tips from detainees reportedly led to blind alleys and expensive wild goose chases.

Jose Rodriguez: But the issue here was timing. We needed information and we needed it right away to protect the homeland.

Rodriguez is essentially saying the torture was virtually useless when we couple this revelation with an earlier point he made.  He stated a psychologist he consulted on torture techniques said it would usually take about thirty days to “break” someone and get pertinent information.  By this time, the info leading to other terrorists is likely irrelevant since the free terrorists would probably move from their locations in the interest of their own safety when they realize someone has been caught who knows their whereabouts.  Rodriguez is also contradicting himself and the idea of the ticking time bomb scenario with the thirty days revelation.

Lesley Stahl: Now, here’s what I heard: that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told you the courier had retired and threw you off the scent for a while.

Jose Rodriguez: That was the one secret he was going to take to the grave, and that was the protection of the Sheikh. He was not going to tell us.

The courier they are speaking of here is the one that eventually led to Osama bin Laden.  An important point since Rodriguez is admitting torture failed on KSM and, not only did it fail, he also shows they had no idea when someone was lying to them even when being tortured.  A very poor defense for torture considering KSM is usually the prime example of torture allegedly “working.”

Then comes the most fascinating part of this interview: the discussion of the tapes that recorded the “enhanced interrogation” of Zubaydah and their destruction by Rodriguez.

The reason why we taped Abu Zubaydah was because we– he was very wounded when he was captured. And we feared that he was gonna die in captivity. So we wanted to show the world that we actually had nothing to do with his death. That you know, he died on his own.

First off, I’m assuming he was saying the “died on his own” part tongue-in-cheek.  I haven’t known many people to get wounded by another person then ‘die on their own’ because of the wounds inflicted by someone else.

But the bigger question here is why tape the interrogation then destroy it?  Zubaydah was one of the first relatively big captures in the War on Terror and was also one of the first to be tortured.  Rodriguez claims he destroyed the tapes so they could not be used as propaganda and to protect the identities of his agents in the videos.  If they were only making people “uncomfortable for a few days” and it was “not about hurting anybody”, why would the tapes be propaganda?  Answer: because it’s actually torture.  And the idea he was protecting his agents’ identities?  Was the CIA not familiar with blurring stuff out of videos?  Could they really not hire a 10-year-old with a computer and video editing software to do this one for them?  And if they had a video of Zubaydah giving the location of 9/11 mastermind KSM, wouldn’t this be the best justification of their techniques?

Since Rodriguez gives no real defense of why he destroyed the tapes, I’ll give one considering the evidence we are given.  He destroyed the tapes of the Zubaydah interrogation because torture wasn’t working on him and they wanted no record showing their embarrassment of the false information they believed and followed around the world wasting a ton of money and resources.  If the tapes existed and showed the FBI was right and he was wrong, he and everyone in the government advocating torture over the past decade would be shamed forever.

Which leads us to one last point.  If this were to be true, it would have been even more vicious than the idea of torture itself to continue the program when you know it to be a failure.  And they did continue it…