I have previously blogged about the morality and legality of waterboarding here, here, here, here, here, and here. There are other articles out there that deal with this, such as the illegality of threats of imminent death. But this post will be about the other argument I've heard: "It worked." Not true.
Even though Cheney has claimed that documents would vindicate his claim that his "enhanced interrogation techniques" [torture] saved "hundreds of thousands of lives," (a claim he later backtracked on, implicity denying that they saved a single life in reality) one of the FBI's best interrogaters has shown that, in reality, waterboarding doesn't work.
Here are some of the highlights of the article:
Former FBI Interrogator Ali Soufan testified on the use of torture before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee and stated that the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques are "slow, ineffective, unreliable, and harmful to our efforts." Soufan was able to obtain valuable intel using techniques labeled the "informed interrogation approach", which are consistent with the Army Field Manual. His testimony is fascinating.
Soufin was the agent who first interrogated Abu Zubaydah, the man now famous for being waterboarded 83 times. Zubaydah had been badly wounded in the struggle to capture him and was almost immediately taken to a hospital. It was there that Soufin began his interrogation, and gained "important, actionable intelligence" within the first hour regarding the role Khalid Sheikh Mohammed played in the 9-11 attacks. Committee Chair Sheldon called this "one of the more significant pieces of intelligence information we've ever obtained in the war on terror."
Soon the CIA-CTC was brought in, and a private contractor instructed them to subject Zubaydah to harsh interrogation techniques. Michael Isikoff wrote that: "Agency operatives were aiming to crack him with rough and unorthodox interrogation tactics—including stripping him nude, turning down the temperature and bombarding him with loud music." Soufan told the committee that Zubaydah "shut down." Later, Soufan interrogated the man again, using Army sanctioned methods, and Zubaydah disclosed information about the alleged "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla. According to Soufan, the contractor soon reasserted control, ordering the use of "enhanced" techniques and Zubaydah shut down again. Worried, Soufan objected to his FBI superiors, and was soon ordered home by Director Mueller, who also decreed that FBI personnel should no longer participate in CIA interrogations.
Soufan's account of this interrogation contradicts the May 2005 memo from the Office of Legal Counsel which implied that this valuable information was elicited from Zubaydah as a result of the harsh interrogation techniques used. Soufan's account is deeply damaging to arguments about torture's effectiveness Dick Cheney and other Bush-era officials have been making of late.
Soufan describes his methods as follows:
The approach is based on leveraging our knowledge of a detainee's mindset, vulnerabilities, and culture together with using intelligence already known about him. The interrogator uses a combination of interpersonal, cognitive, and emotional strategies to exact the information needed. If done correctly, this approach works quickly and effectively because it outsmarts the detainee using a method that he is not trained nor able to resist.
He then critiqued the "enhanced techniques":
The Army Field Manual is not about being soft; it's about outwitting, outsmarting, and manipulating the detainee. The approach is in sharp contrast of the enhanced interrogation method that instead tries to subjugate the detainee into submission through humiliation and cruelty. The idea behind it is to force the detainee to see the interrogator as the master who controls his pain. It's merely an exercise in trying to force compliance rather than elicit cooperation. A major problem with it is it is ineffective. Al Qaeda are trained to resist torture. As shocking as these techniques are to us, their training prepares them for much worse. The torture that they would receive if caught by dictatorships, for example. In a democracy, however, there is a glass ceiling the interrogator cannot breach. And eventually, the detainee will call the interrogator's bluff..... The technique is also unreliable. We don't know whether the detainee is being truthful or just speaking to mitigate his discomfort. The technique is also slow. Waiting 180 hours as part of a sleep deprivation stage is time we cannot afford to waste in a ticking-bomb scenario.
There is more in the article linked above. It's a good read. We could've gotten the information in many different ways. But no, we wanted to feel better and [torture] our detainees, getting back at them for 9/11. But we did not have to, and it was an exercise in futility.
Here is something else that has bothered me in this whole debate: the questioning of our patriotism if we have a legitimate problems with torture, even of our enemies. I personally have had my Republican credentials questioned because I didn't, and never will, support torturing our enemies.
I think this summed it up quite well for me:
Conservative pundits casually liken waterboarding to prep-school initiation, and claim that anyone who opposes prisoner abuse must simply hate America. The president himself asks us to move on. And the great number of ordinary Americans who have, in fact, expressed outrage are dismissed as members of the bloodthirsty "hard left."