Only Question Remaining About Torture: Why Would Anyone Defend It?

The recent Washington Post article reporting some of the details of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the use of torture by the CIA tells us more of what we already have known for a long time: it never worked to produce any good intelligence in the War on Terror.

“The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”…

“The CIA conflated what was gotten when, which led them to misrepresent the effectiveness of the program,” said a second U.S. official who has reviewed the report. The official described the persistence of such misstatements as among “the most damaging” of the committee’s conclusions.

The lies by the CIA to protect the program of torturing suspects was clearly consistent.  Much like the use of imaginary heroics to boost support for the war effort by the Bush administration (see their manipulation of the Jessica Lynch story), the CIA also propagandized their efforts to keep things moving in the wrong direction on torture tactics:

Detainees’ credentials also were exaggerated, officials said. Agency officials described Abu Zubaida as a senior al-Qaeda operative — and, therefore, someone who warranted coercive techniques — although experts later determined that he was essentially a facilitator who helped guide recruits to al-Qaeda training camps.

But the question remains: why would anyone, such as torture advocate and former CIA official Jose Rodriguez, continue to claim the program worked and, in essence, should be kept as a possible tactic to use in the future?

It’s clear that part of the reason is that some of these folks want to believe that their work and efforts were useful and made an impact on the intelligence effort.  No one wants to hear that their years of hard work, no matter how despicable, was useless or, even worse, counterproductive to the overall goal of minimizing terrorism.

There could, however, be another rather dubious reason: staying away from any possible penalty for their actions.  As the article points out very briefly:

The report also does not recommend new administrative punishment or further criminal inquiry into a program that the Justice Department has investigated repeatedly. (Emphasis added)

If we consider the lies and distortions the CIA dealt to their overseers, we have to question why they continued to use the program because, at this point, it almost seems as if they were just downright sadistic and wanted to hurt people.  And if that was the only logical reason to continue a program they knew was ineffective, they would certainly put themselves in a position to face criminal prosecution at some point.

Which now begs the question, will the Senate report ever be released to the public?  A portion of it may come out but it’s rather doubtful the whole report will be released since the embarrassment of the torture program’s ineffectiveness would be damaging to the entire government, not just the CIA.  The Senate has a reason to keep the whole of that report under wraps and it is likely they will do just that.

The Justification of Torture Gets Obliterated Part Four – False Confessions

Continued from parts one, two, and three...

The next section in the report addresses the “dangers of false confessions”.  Lots of interesting tidbits of info included here beginning with the fact many of the techniques for torture used by the CIA were derived from SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape), a child mostly of the Cold War but apparently not intended for what the agency used it for:

The SERE techniques…had their origins in Communist techniques used to extract false confessions…[T]hat model’s primary objective was to compel a prisoner to generate propaganda, not intelligence.

In other words, the methods torture advocates say are great for gaining intelligence were not actually derived for that purpose.  Should have been a clear indicator it probably wasn’t going to work out too well.  But it wasn’t and it gets worse.  They were also basing their decisions off of results of internal testing, which is problematic:

SERE trainees were given specific “secrets” to keep from “interrogators” in the training exercise, and routinely failed…SERE instructors often know in advance the information they are trying to solicit…SERE instructors likely believe they can tell based on behavioral cues whether someone is telling the truth, but scientific studies show that behavioral indicators of deception are faint and unreliable.

It should be obvious that interrogators in the real world do not know the info they are trying to get from someone in advance.  And the false perception of interrogators’ own ability to detect the truth and lies makes the use of torture incredibly problematic, as I have noted previously.  If we can’t tell someone telling the truth from someone lying then there is no way to know when to start and when to stop torturing a suspect.  And that is probably the most important reason torture should have never been used to begin with.

The study then notes the problems with using sleep deprivation and how this has an adverse effect on memory and might even produce false memories which lead to false confessions in order to stop the torture.  This is followed by the most damaging evidence against the use of torture one might conjure: al-Libi’s link between Iraq and Al Qaeda and the possibility of chemical weapons changing hands in the relationship.

Al-Libi was at first cooperating with interrogators and giving valuable info.  Then he was sent to Egypt to be tortured because he denied (correctly) a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein existed.

al-Libi claimed that during his initial debriefings “he lied…about future operations to avoid torture“…”the next topic was al-Qa’ida’s connections with Iraq…This was a subject about which he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story“…Al-Libi told debriefers that “after the beating,” he was again asked about the connection with Iraq and this time he came up with a story that three al-Qa’ida members went to Iraq to learn about nuclear weapons…the topic of anthrax and biological weapons. Al-Libi stated that he “knew nothing about a biological program and did not even understand the term biological.”

This info was quoted by Colin Powell at his UN speech prior to the Iraq War.  We, of course, would never allow info gained by torture in court cases in the United States but happily used some to start a war.  What’s not good enough for us is good enough for us to exert on the rest of the world apparently.

If the idea of using torture as a means for gathering intelligence hasn’t yet been buried forever, then the hammer is coming down very hard on the last nail on its coffin.  It never worked, will never work, and, the saddest part, we knew it wouldn’t work before we started using it.  Let’s hope the issue is forever put to rest for the betterment of mankind.

The Justification of Torture Gets Obliterated Part Three – Library Tower Plot

Continued from parts one and two

The Zubaydah section is followed by the info on the plot to take out the Library Tower.  It starts with the absurd quote from Supreme Court Justice Scalia saying we wouldn’t convict Jack Bauer when he saved lives using torture.  Please Antonin, recognize that you are senile and should step down from the bench when you are making decisions based on fictional characters.  I hope he doesn’t make any references to the Ambiguously Gay Duo in his upcoming decision on gay marriage.

The study notes the Library Tower Plot has been held up as an example of the “ticking bomb” justification for the use of torture.  But this scenario has been absolutely shredded by researchers in the field, as I noted here, and even the Library Plot fails as an example of justification for torture, as indicated by the study.

After an introduction of the main people in the plot, we are given the “official” version from the Bush administration that the country swallowed as a successful use of torture to stop an attack.  It sounds like a great fictional story and that’s mostly what it turns out to be once the facts are presented.

It’s stated $50,000 was transferred from KSM to the group supposedly plotting the attack and this was a big piece of what helped bring all the suspects in.  But the truth is the money was used for something else and those arrested were eventually let go without charges.

Despite the CIA’s assertion that they would have “possibly,” or “eventually” participated in U.S. operations:

(Soufan) This “eventually” and “possibly” was the best analysts could conclude, despite 183 sessions of waterboarding. … The reality is that the al-Ghuraba cell wasn’t involved, which is why the U.S. didn’t request the arrest of its members and they were sent to their home countries.

Many of them were released after their return. Others were held for several years, but none was ever charged in connection with any plot against the United States.

As for the money and what it was used for:

If there were a ticking bomb that could have been defused by intelligence from Zubair, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Majid Khan, it would have been in Jakarta, not Los Angeles. On August 5, 2003, a suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb outside of the lobby of the Jakarta Marriott Hotel, killing 11 people and wounding at least 81…the money was used to finance the Marriott bombing.

The study essentially says the plot to bring down the Library Tower may have existed but there was no certainty it was going to happen and it was, at best, a hypothetical plot with no actual movement as to making it happen any time in the near future.  There was no “ticking bomb” when it came to this and the release of most of those supposedly involved without any charges is a pretty clear indication the plot was simply used as propaganda for the cheerleaders of torture.

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.