The Truth About Torture

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A debate has erupted about the new film Zero Dark Thirty, and whether it inaccurately suggests that U.S.-sanctioned torture (aka “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”) led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

That claim was memorably asserted within hours of bin Laden’s death by Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA‘s clandestine service in an interview with TIME. Rodriguez made the case more fully in his book, Hard Measures.

The argument was then persuasively countered by Senators Diane Feinstein and Carl Levin and by several others with direct knowledge of the program, including former CIA interrogation supervisor, Glenn A. Carle and by Rodriguez’s nemesis, former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan.

The definitive answer to whether there is a link between information gained through torture and the killing of Osama bin Laden is available to those with the necessary security clearances thanks to years of painstaking work by the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In March 2009, the committee voted 14-1 to write a report on the history of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, and its effectiveness, after reviewing and being shocked by CIA cables that described interrogations.

After Attorney General Eric Holder decided in Aug. 2009 to investigate whether interrogators had gone beyond the legal guidelines outlined for them by the Justice Department, Republican members of the committee pulled out of the SSCI effort to produce the report. The Democratic staff continued, reviewing some 6 million documents and ultimately writing a 6,000 page report with 35,000 footnotes. The report was adopted this week by the committee 9-6, with Republicans claiming errors and omissions.

The report remains classified and it is not clear when any of it will be made available to the public. SSCI chair Diane Feinstein released a statement on the committee’s adoption of the report, which she called “one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the United States Senate, and by far the most important oversight activity ever conducted by this committee.”

The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight. I look forward to working with the president and his national security team, including the Director of National Intelligence and Acting Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to address these important issues, with the top priority being the safety and security of our nation.

Conducting oversight is sometimes a difficult and unpleasant task for all involved, but I am confident the CIA will emerge a better and more able organization as a result of the committee’s work. I also believe this report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques such as those detailed in this report.

I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.

Ultimately the renewed debate over Zero Dark Thirty shows that the U.S. has not come to terms with its embrace of torture after 9/11 and that doing so remains a crucial piece of unfinished business for Washington and the country.

Two final points: Soufan and Rodriguez agree that “enhanced interrogation” by Egyptian authorities produced bogus intelligence about collaboration between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, intelligence that Colin Powell used in 2003 to make the case for invading Iraq (see Hard Measures, pp. 52-53).

Lastly, for those who think waterboarding is not torture, I settle that issue in discussion with a variety of senior Bush administration officials here.

163 comments
BruceS78
BruceS78

This is an observation on those that use torture and their long term success.  The Shah in Iran.  Hussein in Iraq.  Hitler in Germany.  There are many more.  Pretty sure there is a correlation between the use of torture and the long term success and failure of a country.

Also,  I am sure most people wish we had made a different decision about invading Iraq.  You have to wonder where the Afghanistan war would be today, if we had concentrated on it instead of wasting our time and money in Iraq. 

Finally, how many false confusions have police in the United States obtained from innocent people simply by keeping them up for hours on end without sleep or food or access to a bathroom?  That is an "enhanced interrogation" method that has resulted in innocent Americans going to jail for crimes they didn't commit.

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

Give Obama credit for replacing this despicable practice with the more humane and cleaner Hellfire missile from a drone. FORWARD March.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

I'd love to engage in a drinking game of taking a shot every time Kevin calls someone an "anonymous coward" or "skippy" or some other childish nickname but I'm afraid I might die of alcohol poisoning within five posts.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Someone under the duress of torture will say or do anything to stop it. Many in the military and the intelligence community have pointed out as much, and this is precisely why it can't be considered an effective means of intelligence gathering.  Besides, what does it say about our society if we're willing to stoop to such vile tactics?

TimO'Donnell
TimO'Donnell

The word toture has become a weasel word. By putting "having one's fingernails pulled out" in the same category as (a man) "being forced to wear women's underwear" the word has lost most of it's former meaning. But the people against enhanced interogation wish to use the medievil conotation of torture when wishing to abolish it. Sleep deprivation, while unpleasant, is not in the same category as " being drawn and quertered" or " raked over coals".  Did interogation  work in this instance? None of us in the public are privy to know. Might it work in some instance? That is quite a different question. If it is not effective then the question of its use is moot. Only effective strategies will be  kept in the long run. The fact that many do not wish to prohibit it makes me wonder if it is perhaps effective in some instances.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

After what happened in Newton, I don't feel like giving the usual righties (esp. one who welches on bets and appears to embrace torture) any more attention by debating them on the "merits" of torture.

MrObvious
MrObvious

I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.

That's the understatement of the year

sacredh
sacredh

If a person or a religion doesn't accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as their personal savior, they deserve to be tortured to death. Jesus is coming. Look busy.

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

Tough guys on the internet cheering torture. I suspect they type that word one-handed. 

paulejb
paulejb

My guess is that the movie Zero Dark Thirty will convince most Americans that the use of "enhanced interrogation" did lead to the location of OBL and his subsequent demise.

paulejb
paulejb

The jihadist dilemma: Water boarding or incineration? What's a martyrdom seeking fanatic to do?

TimO'Donnell
TimO'Donnell

@DonQuixotic Shock and Awe was a military bombing campaign. I don't know whether it succeeded in in its goal. But as for enhanced interogation, If as you say you know it doesn't work, then it will not be used. Serious people use what works. They are not playing games. If on the other hand and to your dismay it does work in some situations, then it will probably be used in such situations when deemed necessary. What matters most when matters are grave is "What really works" and little else.

TimO'Donnell
TimO'Donnell

@DonQuixotic  That is why successful interogater like successful detectives or successful scientists use corroberating sources and rigorously challenge hunches before acting on them.

sacredh
sacredh

outsider2011, it isn't all that bad. I don't mind if he says a 1-2 sentence prayer for the food. I always mention that I bought it and his mother cooked it though. I also say that while the good christians in the house are sitting around after dinner, the atheist will do the dishes.

outsider
outsider

@sacredh 

i would love to sit in on dinner with you and your son.. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@paulejb And the Hobbit will convince people there are hobbits, dragons, dwarves and paulejb( I mean Trolls)

MrObvious
MrObvious

@paulejb 

If they're convinced based on what's in a movie I'm sure they should all be watching some other fiction like Fox News.

outsider
outsider

@paulejb 

That statement makes it sound like you believe the US shouldn't do anything - is that what you're saying Paule?

TimO'Donnell
TimO'Donnell

@DonQuixotic  I see no problem with accuracy providing the translators are good at listening to the interogated. The question for the interogator is "Is this person telling the truth?" That is not subjective. It is a proposition which must be tested. As to "what does this say about us?" Amoung other things "We are dead serious" and perhaps"We mean business (so tell the truth and you can become to comfortable again)"

sacredh
sacredh

outsider2011, not too long ago when his girlfriend was here for dinner, I threw in a quick prayer that had her almost crying. I said "Thank you for this food O'Lord. Please don't pull your botulism trick. I know you think it's funny but so many have died. Amen" Even my wife cracked a smile at that one.

outsider
outsider

@sacredh 

Oh, i just meant i could see the humor in your one off's. And i'd probably enjoy his retorts. If he's anything like you - at all. 

Aphugel
Aphugel

@TyPollard @paulejb So? the VAST majority of USAmericans get their history lessons and their "truth" from movies.It IS a movie.... it is not "JUST" a movie.

outsider
outsider

@TyPollard @paulejb 

It is a movie - and the creators said they did not mean to imply torture lead to OBL's killing. Though the reviewers say differently. 

But the creators are backing off it. 

Then again, when have the right ever let reality assert itself?

paulejb
paulejb

@outsider2011 @paulejb ,

It is a conundrum. Liberals get their knickers all in a bunch over water boarding but don't so much as blink over Obama's policy of death from above. Why is that, Ossie?

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@TimO'Donnell @DonQuixotic  

Sorry, I just don't believe shock and awe tactics have any place in a society as civilized as ours.  

Time and again members of the intelligence community have come out and said torture doesn't work; I'm inclined to agree with them, particularly since I don't want our country doing it to begin with.

sacredh
sacredh

outsider2011, just one example before I change the light in the motion detecter outside. A former girlfriend of our son was here a few years ago and out german shepherd jumped up on the couch. The girl frowned and asked my  wife if we allowed dogs on the couch. My wife said "Sit anywhere you want to dear".

outsider
outsider

@sacredh 

That's pretty amazing man. I'm just glad she pesters you to come join us (so that you stop pestering her)

sacredh
sacredh

He can have a wicked sense of humor at times, but his mother and I are just in a different class. My wife can be brutal with her remarks. Sometimes even I am shocked by the things she says. I laugh, but I'm shocked.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@KevinGroenhagen @outsider2011 @paulejb 

Skippy, you've demonstrated that you intellect is at a very, very low level. Your writing indicates that you have, at best, a junior college education. There is no evidence of logic or reason in anything you write.

You simply can't make this stuff up. 3 Posts from Grovie here and no one that shows logic and reasoning, just pointless agitation and telling someone they're idiots.

Think Grovie - think.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@paulejb @outsider2011 

Because waterboarding is torture and killing people who try to kill us is part of war.

Also - hopefully the aim with drone attacks is to get an enemy of ours where it's dangerous to use out resources.

There is no meaningful aim with torture.

KevinGroenhagen
KevinGroenhagen

@outsider2011 @KevinGroenhagen @paulejb Skippy, you've demonstrated that you intellect is at a very, very low level. Your writing indicates that you have, at best, a junior college education. There is no evidence of logic or reason in anything you write.

outsider
outsider

@paulejb @outsider2011 

Because death from above saves lives back home. 

Torture is lowering yourself to your enemies level, thus becoming the same as your enemy. 

Admittedly it's moralizing - but i think that is where it comes from. 

That aerial attacks cause collateral damage (a very cynical way of saying killing innocent people) is unfortunate; but war always does. If you want to stop collateral damage, stop making war. 

But since that isn't likely to happen, at least "death from above" prevents your own soldiers from dying. 

But the Geneva conventions are what separate civilized society from anarchist survival. 

Muslims aren't uncivilized - but terrorists sure are. 

Though you seem to be supporting them here - are you? Maybe Obama should just leave them all alone, because it throws off the repub attack about Dems being weak on terror, or in foreign affairs? 

Is that what you think?