Monday, August 31, 2009

Waterboarding saved NO lives.

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."


Dave Miller said...

I choose to defer to Sen McCain, one of the few national politicians to have been tortured, who agrees that torture does not work and hurts us abroad.

Logically, one should also ask how effective is a procedure that takes 187 times to get the necessary information.

It will be interesting to see if anyone decides to question the report you cited and thus chooses to effectively call the FBI liars.

Anonymous said...

I still don't see what's conservative about supporting waterboarding. We can slice up meanings all we want, but Ronald Reagan himself called the practice torture. In my opinion, if somebody really thinks waterboarding is legal, should be legal, or that it is justifiable, then they should probably admit that the president who withdrew American soldiers from Beirut after a "mere" 241 were killed, was wrong. If supporting a practice like waterboarding is considered "conservative," then I think we should probably take note that this only coincides with the Bush presidency.

I can also understand if someone thinks waterboarding may be used in extreme circumstances, but the flippant treatment I've seen conservatives have toward the practice is disconcerting, to say the least.

Another source you might want to consider regarding the efficiency of torture vs. talking is Matthew Alexander's book "How to Break a Terrorist." A condensed essay version of the book is in the August 2009 issue of The American Conservative magazine:

Carl Wicklander said...

For some reason that posted as anonymous. It was me, Carl Wicklander of Uncouth Ruminations. I swear.

James' Muse said...

I agree, Carl. I've been told time and time again to switch parties because I think the Bush admin was the worst since Hoover, especially regarding this issue.

Anonymous said...

Great post as well as the comments, I'm almost afraid to go next! :-)

This is a touch subject because it crosses simple humanity and protecting the country.

In my opinion, if there are other more effective ways to get terrorist to talk, it should always be used. Like Dave's point above, if someone had to be waterboarded 83 times, I would think that would tell you in no uncertain terms that it doesn't work. There are guidelines and we have to use them. I think we need to think out of the box on this one, because there has to be a way to get the information needed to keep our country safe without resorting to torture.

James' Muse said...

Jennifer, you're right. It IS a touchy subject...and I tend to believe the FBI over Cheney (who just doesn't want to be blamed for the mess he made)...we can, and should, keep our country safe with interrogation. Not torture. People will say anything to make it stop. But in interrogation, which our law enforcement and military uses all the time, we get results.

In my opinion, the whole waterboarding/torture/enhanced whatever BS was just about making ourselves feel better by hurting people that wanted to hurt us because we couldn't find Osama.

TRUTH 101 said...

Cheney will keep repeating his lie about "enhanced interrogation" saving lives as long as he lives. The best we can hope for at some trace of dignity from this clown is lately he has been giving himself some cover through answering questions more vaguely.

Carl Wicklander said...

I know what you mean, James. It sometimes seems like the only issue that really matters for Republicans is how much they support the Bush foreign policy.

For example, I think of myself as a Ron Paul Republican. Now even though Ron Paul represents just about everything the Republican Party has traditionally stood for, he was repeatedly maligned as a kook because of his views on the Iraq war, waterboarding, et al. There wasn't even a place for him at last year's Republican convention, but there was a place for people like Rudy Giuliani, Joe Lieberman, and Mitt Romney: a liberal Republican, a liberal Democratic Independent, and an empty suit. But as long as they stayed on the war message, any other serious aberration could be excused.

James' Muse said...

Yeah, I've had my Republican credentials questioned numerous times, even here, because I don't support the Bush Admin, and I really don't like Cheney. Usually by BluePitbull, who I consider a friend, but annoys the snot out of me everytime he attacks my conservatism because of my disgust with waterboarding and other things the Bush admin did. Personally, I think the Bush admin's neo-conservative idealogy, especially in foreign policy (as well as domestic spying) was a betrayal of all things truly conservative. But in actually saying that, I'm told that I'm just a closet liberal. Hm.

Anonymous said...

"Waterboarding saved NO lives."

You would have to be insane to really believe that!

And your guy Obama doesn't seem like such a bad guy to me, but since when did "not being such a bad guy" become a primary qualification to be the leader of the free world?

Anonymous said...

TRUTH 101 said...


Dave Miller said...

Inquiring Minds, it is hard to blame Obama for something that happened in the Bush Admin, which was the specific focus of this post.

Did you miss that, or choose to ignore it when you told Truth to focus on "Obami?"

So since you are saying that waterboarding saved lives, are you saying the FBI, during the Bush Administration, deliberately lied?

There can be no other conclusion if you choose to believe Cheney. To believe him is to say that the FBI, under Pres. Bush by the way, purposefully fabricated a misleading report to contradict the Vice President of the United States.

Is that what you are claiming? because both sides in this, Cheney and the FBI, cannot be telling the truth.

I'll await your response.

James' Muse said...

Inquiring Minds: You obviously didn't read the post, just the headline. The FBI's interrogator said this.

Also, about Cheney: he's the one who comes out and tries to say things. This post was about refuting that. Obama isn't to blame for everything that's happeneded this year. Cause and effect isn't always immediate.

James' Muse said...

I've said it on another blog: I'll take the word of the FBI before the CIA about issues of interrogation any day.

Dave Miller said...

James, did you see Scheer's post today on Truthdig? In it he references a very brutal [for the Cheney lovers] op-ed piece in the NY Times by the FBI agent who actually interrogated many of these Al Qaeda types.

It is good reading. Even if we excuse Scheer's hyperbole on some of his stuff, it is hard to excuse the Iraq angle.