Torture Did Not Make Us Safer

Apologists for what is euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques” who claim that the use of harsh, coercive physical and mental tactics — i.e., torture — induced high-value detainees to give up valuable information, prevented terrorist attacks, and made us safer, are wrong.

They are flat-out wrong.

The evidence that they are wrong has come from many sources in the past few months. David Rose’s December, 2008, Vanity Fair article is one:

… In researching this article, I spoke to numerous counterterrorist officials from agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Their conclusion is unanimous: not only have coercive methods failed to generate significant and actionable intelligence, they have also caused the squandering of resources on a massive scale through false leads, chimerical plots, and unnecessary safety alerts—with Abu Zubaydah’s case one of the most glaring examples.

Here, they say, far from exposing a deadly plot, all torture did was lead to more torture of his supposed accomplices while also providing some misleading “information” that boosted the administration’s argument for invading Iraq.

“Matthew Alexander,” a former military interrogator who uses a pseudonym for security reasons, is another such source.  His team’s non-coercive interrogation techniques led to the finding and killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Today, a former FBI special agent named Ali Soufan becomes another interrogation expert to go on record about the utter ineffectiveness of torture at producing actionable intelligence:

For seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

Defenders of these techniques have claimed that they got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a top aide to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Mr. Padilla. This is false. The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.

As Greg Sargent reminds us, even former FBI director Robert Mueller acknowledged (in that Vanity Fair article linked to above) that he does not know of any terror plots that were foiled by the use of torture.

24 Responses to “Torture Did Not Make Us Safer”

  1. Booogie-Mann says:

    Many officials, who actually gave their names, say the interrogations did work. I’d agree with you if broken bones and blood were part of these interrogations, but they weren’t. These techniques were used on only a few of the worst Terrorists (oh, can I use that word?) after they would not talk.

    Adm. Dennis C. Blair, Obama’s intelligence director:
    CIA Memo’s reveal 9/11 repeat was prevented:
    General Hayden says “The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer. It really did work.”,2933,517158,00.html

    So whether you agree with these techniques or not is certainly a matter for debate. To say they didn’t work at all defies common sense.

  2. Chief says:

    “Here’s what Williams told Soledad O’Brien of CNN : “I was asked to assist. And what I saw was that individuals who were doing interrogations had slipped over a line and were really doing things that were inappropriate. There were prisoners that were burned with lit cigarettes.” ”

    This snippet was from a story here re: a soldier her killed herself after being unable to take part in interrogations.

    There is no doubt that gross violations of human decency took place, just because those in charge COULD.

  3. Kathy says:


    1. Dennis Blair said that in some cases torture had resulted in valuable information, but he did not say that the use of torture was justified. Here is what he said in a public statement after Obama released the memos:

    “The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means,” Admiral Blair said in a written statement issued last night. “The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security.”

    By the way, that link goes to the same MSNBC article you used as evidence that Dennis Blair said interrogations worked.

    2. Broken bones and blood are not what defines torture. Torture is the deliberate, intentional infliction of severe pain and suffering for the purpose of eliciting a confession, or for the purpose of gaining information, or for sadistic pleasure.

    3. Whether “these techniques” were used on “only a few of the worst Terrorists,” they (“these techniques”) ARE torture and they ARE illegal. It doesn’t matter if it was done once or a thousand times, on one person or ten million. It’s torture. It’s illegal.

    4. I see nothing in Ed Morrissey’s post that points to any evidence that torture prevented another 9/11. In fact, there isn’t much of anything in Ed’s post that serves as evidence of anything at all. His only link that I saw is to an article at CNS (which in its own words is a right-wing site) saying that the CIA “confirms” coercive interrogations worked. Are you surprised that Michael Hayden or the CIA brass say torture worked? What else would you expect them to say?

    5. You write, “So whether you agree with these techniques or not is certainly a matter for debate. To say they didn’t work at all defies common sense.”

    What defies common sense is continuing to believe that “these techniques” worked, on the say-so of the people and institutions that authorized and conducted those techniques, and in the face of mountains of factual evidence — time lines that undermine or give the lie to claims of valuable info and foiled plots gained through torture , the real-life experiences of interrogators who got actionable intelligence without resorting to torture, etc. — that clearly demonstrate such belief verges on insanity.

    As for my agreement or lack of agreement with “these techniques,” it is entirely irrelevant. This is not about “agreement” or “disagreement.” This is about the law. Torture is against the law. And yes, the techniques authorized in the OLC memos *are* torture.

    Arguments about whether torture worked, how often it was used and on whom, and whether one agrees or disagrees with its use, are all, ultimately, irrelevant. Torture is against the law. Period, end of story.

  4. Booogie-Mann says:

    Sorry, maybe Obama changed the law to make these techniques illegal now .. but at the time enhanced interrogation techniques were approved by Administration Lawyers, Congress, and the President himself. One or 1 million people?? The number does make a difference, I’d be against this too if every detainee was being waterboarded every day, but only the Masterminds of 9/11 got waterboarded. You’ll just have to accept that a large portion of people have a different torture definition than you, as I accept that folks of your opinion would probably do little if anything to get information out of Terrorists.

    The techniques worked, you can ignore or dismiss the people who say so to support your opinion … attribute some sort of agenda or whatever to discount the facts and testimony of people who took part in the process, whatever. Nobody has contradicted the assertion that a threat on LA was thwarted and valuable information was gained which saved lives.

    People’s opinions do matter, the Laws change shape all the time in major and minor ways.

    But hey, at least you responded without a flair of insults like tas ….

  5. Jack Jodell says:

    Torture did not make us safer. It made us less safe, as it made alQaeda more determined than ever to attack us and gave them a recruiting tool. This is an insane age when we can have members of a former administration publicly advocating war crimes and crimes against humanity and, after having committed such acts, they are still allowed to walk around freely, going unpunished.

  6. Chief says:

    Apparently, B-M suffers from a distinctly short perspective due to a severe case of cranial-rectumitis.

    Neither Obama nor Bush changed any laws. The Bush administration by innuendo got lawyers to write a definition that put the POTUS above the law.

    Torture has been well defined and that definition has not changed in the last 20 years.

  7. John says:

    To say that torture “worked” at all defies basic human decency. The sort of person who would torture another cannot be trusted to deliver any of this alleged valuable intelligence, and wouldn’t be competent at more gentle persuasion.

    The fascists’ apologists who can even *consider* torture as “working” sicken me.

  8. Augie says:

    Today’s headlines proffered this:

    The Defense Department will release “a substantial number” of photographs showing abuse of prisoners at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan

    and this headline:

    Torture began before Bush administration sanctioned it

  9. Torture was not only ineffective, it was clearly illegal and many elements of the professional military establishment objected to it. Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Myers basically had to subvert the normal military review process in order to eke out a justification for using torture — the result was a flimsy one-page memo based on a legal analysis that was described as “totally inadequate.” This is from the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, which I summarized here:

    Obviously the pro-torture elements are attacking it as fraudulent, but they don’t have much besides heated rhetoric to back that up.

  10. Michael Perkins says:

    Mr Booogie-mann; Only a few children were held & tortured so is this ok? If we can get a parent to talk by abusing his or her children (which we have done) will you agree to that, if we allow parents to watch as their children are sodomized (which we have done) to make them talk is that ok? Every inch over the line we go makes the next step easier untill we are doing these things to children , that is where we have come to and it must be prosecuted.

  11. paradoctor says:

    Torture “works” if what you want is false confessions to use for propaganda. Torture cannot find real ticking bombs, but it can find imaginary ones. And torture does not safeguard the nation; it safeguards the torturer’s party.

  12. Kathy says:

    Sorry, maybe Obama changed the law to make these techniques illegal now .. but at the time enhanced interrogation techniques were approved by Administration Lawyers, Congress, and the President himself.

    “Enhanced interrogation techniques” is a euphemism for torture. Torture is illegal. It violates our own laws and it violates several international agreements to which the U.S. is a party and thus is obligated to observe.

    You’ll just have to accept that a large portion of people have a different torture definition than you, as I accept that folks of your opinion would probably do little if anything to get information out of Terrorists.

    Actually, you have no idea how a “large portion” of people would define torture, but it’s irrelevant anyway because there is a definition of torture in law, and that’s the only definition that matters.

    If you like, you can write to Matthew Alexander — whose interrogation team in Iraq got information out of terrorists, with no physical or mental coercion, that led directly to the discovery of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s location and enabled U.S. bombers to drop two 500-pound bombs on his house and kill him — and tell him that he did very little or nothing to get information out of terrorists.

    Nobody has contradicted the assertion that a threat on LA was thwarted and valuable information was gained [through the use of torture] which saved lives.

    That is 100 percent false. You really are uninformed, Boogie. Do some basic research before you make statements like that. All it does is make you look like an ignorant fool.

  13. Booogie-Mann says:

    No Michael Perkins I don’t advocate sodomizing babies nor waterboarding their parents. Only waterboarding the 3 Terrorists involved in 9/11 …. sorry you can’t tell the difference and liken innocent children to grown adults who slice the heads off of people. You should know better.

    This whole “Torture” thing has helped recruit more terrorists in part because of how the US Media has promoted it !! I agree Abu Graib was embarrassing, but blown WAY out of proportion for Political purposes in the USA. The punishments met out in Arab/Muslim culture itself are far worse then waterboarding or wearing womens underwear (which half of us do). Flogging, chopping off hands, stoning .. these are the punishments set forth by Islamic Law, punishments which leave one maimed and with permanent damage if not death. I’m amazed at how the Left seeks its morality by defending the worst Terrorists in the World; Terrorists who set off suicide bombs in crowded places, fly jumbo jets into buildings full of people, and slice the heads off Journalists, soldiers, and aid workers. Yet somehow clipping the spinal column or inserting a needle into the head of the unborn is ok. I’m also amazed at the flock of Lawyers lining up to defend these guys and apply to them the rights of US Citizens, treat them like shoplifters .. well no, I guess I’m not.

    Again, to say these methods solely produced false information is naive and untrue, defies common sense. Of course people give out false information under ANY kind of interrogation. It’s up to the skill of the Interrogator to get towards the truth. If Matthew Alexander was able to get info out of people, well fine, I’m sure he did, good for him, did he offer them candy? But he did not have to deal with the most hardened, fanatical murderers like KSM.

    The Law Kathy is referring to is the Geneva Convention right? Did Al Qaeda sign on to it yet?? No uniform, no flag, no state, no coverage under the GC Agreement. If the main contention here is “Waterboarding” and “Waterboarding” 3 guys that hardly constitutes a slippery slope.

    Anyway we’ll see what the other memo’s say if they are released. Meanwhile while all this is going on, Senator Di Fi interjected herself into the Banking Committee to help guide some 50 billion dollars to the FDIC … which granted her husband’s firm some 30+billion dollar contract AFTER she intervened … and this isn’t the first time Di Fi directed Government money towards her husband …. all these leftwingnut blogs are silent on the issue …

  14. Booogie-Mann says:

    Senator DiFi intervenes on behalf of her Husband:

  15. TinRoof says:

    No, B-M, the law Kathy is referring to is NOT the Geneva Conventions. It is first, the Nuremburg Rules, which were established by the US and our Allies at the end of WWII, subsequently incorporated into the UN Charter, which was then ratified by the US Senate, thus making it, per the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the land. This law was also used in the Tokyo War Crimes Trials to charge, try, convict, and HANG Japanese soldiers for waterboarding US troops. Ask John McCain, or see Paul Begala here:

    If that’s insufficient for you, there’s also the UN Convention Against Torture, also signed and ratified by the US, and thus also, per the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the land. It requires any credible allegations of torture to be investigated and if found true, prosecuted by the legal authorities in any signatory nation. There is an excellent argument to be made that Obama could and probably SHOULD be impeached if he fails to do so.

    I, for one, have had all I can take of listening to the same people who spent the 1990s howling at me about “respect for the law” (and how important it was to investigate every tiny wobble in the career trajectory of Bill Clinton’s penis) apologizing for and justifying inhuman felonies just because Bush and the Big Dick didn’t have the balls to respect it the first time they got scared. Either you respect the Law, or you don’t.

    We do. And what’s more, it seems most of those commenting here have even read some of it.

    When you have a valid legal argument you didn’t get from a 24 rerun, get back with us. In the meantime, you’re just wasting bandwidth.

  16. Kathy says:

    Beautiful, TinRoof.

  17. TinRoof says:

    Thank you. I have had my fill of being called unpatriotic by uneducated, raving, hypocritical fools who wouldn’t recognize honor or duty if they drowned in it for the last eight years, and I’m not gonna listen to any more. I was properly taught to turn the other cheek, but the instructions didn’t address my obligations when they slap that one, too.

  18. Booogie-Mann says:

    TinMan: I have a feeling nobody on here was referring to the Nuremberg Rules, but you make an interesting case and I will consider it, do a little more research. As far as being all angry about Clinton’s little wiener and comparing that to Bush/torture … well revenge seems to be in play here. I don’t think it was smart for the GOP to go as far as they did with Clinton. A trial and Impeachment was too much, censure and losing his Law License would have been enough although he really did use the power of his government to go after Monica, etc. I have a feeling that Democrats in their lust for blood will make the same mistake and go too far …

    I’ll consider your argument but don’t give me this shit about “respecting the law” and getting on your high horse as if you guys somehow obey the law more then other people … hardly have a monopoly on it. Much finer legal minds than yours gave justification for this. I’m willing to consider their take on things given the grave circumstances after 9/11. Oftentimes “interpretation” of the law just depends upon who’s in power … heck, our Homeland Security Director doesn’t think crossing the border from Mexico is a crime. Local Police Departments don’t enforce Illegal Immigration, are prohibited from doing so in most cases, thanks to people on the left. Obama is continuing the same NSA Eavesdropping program you guys were all in tears about under Bush. What’s up with that?? Overall there are much more important issues to me than 3 extreme Terrorists getting waterboarded. Again, this seems to be more about Leftie revenge, not some attempt at morality for murderers.

  19. Kathy says:

    Overall there are much more important issues to me than 3 extreme Terrorists getting waterboarded. Again, this seems to be more about Leftie revenge, not some attempt at morality for murderers.

    That’s because you care much more about revenge than you do about actually getting the kind of intelligence that can keep us safe. Even if the price is false leads and skyrocketing sign-up numbers for Al Qaeda recruiters, it’s worth it to you to know that a few high-value detainees are being tortured (even though we got nothing of value from them).

    Enforcing the law is not revenge. Supporting the least reliable interrogation methods because of the emotional satisfaction it gives you to see suspected terrorists tortured is.

  20. TinRoof says:

    Nuremburg Rules is precisely what everybody here is talking about, because it is the ruling law, and it states plainly that torturing prisoners is a war crime, and a capital crime at that. No legal mind, no matter how fine, has the power to reinterpret the law to say that it does not mean what it plainly states. If you’re willing to believe it permissible just because of the “grave circumstances after 9/11,” then you’re just another one of those who would sacrifice his honor on his fear, and sacrifice our country and all it stands for in exchange for a temporary illusion of security. Ben Franklin certainly saw you coming.

    By the way, are you aware that waterboarding is what the Spanish Inquisitors used next if the rack didn’t make you confess? It was never meant to elicit the truth, just a confession. And that seems to be all we got out of it, besides the hatred of the Islamic world and another generation of dedicated terrorists.

    You keep citing the “3 extreme terrorists” who were waterboarded as being the extent of the case. What makes you believe it was only 3? What about the couple dozen people known to have been in US custody who disappeared from the records, and apparently from the planet? What about the people known to have been beaten to death during interrogations at Abu Graib? Have you read any of those death certificates? Are you equally content to sleep at night knowing they were murdered in your name? If you support the government’s ability to ignore the law whenever the President is sufficiently afraid, will it still be okay when they mistake you (or your child) for a terrorist? You really might want to think this all the way through at some point.

    It does indeed come down to whether we as a nation respect the Law. Since you consider it “shit,” let’s have a straight up anser to a very simple question- Do you respect the law?

    If so, why are you so bothered by an investigation that is required under the applicable laws to determine the facts? There are several appropriate and adequate ways to do it without it becoming a distracting circus or an exercise in revenge. Even W’s DOJ managed to do a credible job with the investigation of Valerie Plame’s outing to the press.

    If not, why be proud to call yourself an American?

    The hypocrisy I referred to was on the part of the Republican members of Congress who are saying that it would be somehow inappropriate to notice the law now, who were calling for investigations of every unsubstantiated rumor that could buy its way into print during the 90s. It’s only personal to the extent you support and defend their hypocrisy.

    I find it interesting that you blame lack of enforcement of immigration laws on the “left” considering that Republicans completely controlled Congress for 12 of the last 14 years, and had a Republican President for six of those. Surely they could have fixed it in there somewhere? Democrats even pushed bills in the House to address it in the 90s, but were shut down by the Republican leadership, whose campaign contributors were all perfectly happy having cheap brown people to staff their factories, cut their lawns, and nanny their children. It must be tough on you, knowing the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy even controls the Republican leadership.

    Oh, and according to the latest polling, if this is all about “lefty revenge” then the radical left wing now constitutes 65% of the country.

    Again, get back to us when you have a defensible legal argument to justify allowing the US Government to torture your children the next time the President gets scared. Because if we let it be done to THEM, it WILL eventually be done to us.

  21. Booogie-Mann says:

    Before I begin my Legal defense, could Tinman send a link to the “Nuremburg Rules” you are talking about? Just need to get this straight before we continue here. Thanks.

  22. opit says:

    I’ve been reading about this ‘discussion’ for years. The Bush Administration routinely ‘made stuff up’ and lied about what they were doing. Bush denied torture. The military advised it worse than useless and a threat to morale. The law of the land made it punishable by death because it contravened international treaties to which the U.S. was signatory.
    That it generates false confessions should tell you all you need to know about its true purpose.
    Galloping Beaver had a note about the Canadian LMF on this issue just yesterday re: the one international ‘child soldier’ totally ignored by his government.
    The U.S. Congress, however, made the most appalling ruling on the topic
    Consequently, the fact Belgium repudiates any obligation to provide international conveyance of War Criminals to the International Court at the Hague – and Spain’s ‘backing off’ from efforts to honour its obligations to bring the guilty to justice – are much more understandable. The U.S. has declared there will be no Justice done.


  1. Applesauce » Hey, torture fans! To borrow a phrase, which part of illegal don’t you understand? - [...] III: It says HERE that torture has not made us [...]
  2. Mike’s Blog Roundup | My Blog Channel - [...] Scholar: The Torture Flow Chart.  And waterboarding isn’t “simulated drowning.”  It’s [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook