As Greg noted below, Senator John McCain has an op-ed in the Washington Post skewering the idea that the killing of Bin Laden vindicates torture. The key to this op ed is that it calls into question one of the key arguments advanced by torture apologists who are intent on figuring out a way to claim Bin Laden’s killing as a part of Bush’s legacy:
I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda.
In fact, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information. He specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married and ceased his role as an al-Qaeda facilitator — none of which was true. According to the staff of the Senate intelligence committee, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden — was obtained through standard, noncoercive means.
This has already been reported, although Bush apologists have tried to muddle the issue by saying that any information gleaned through CIA interrogations, even those that weren’t coercive, vindicates the use of torture. While no one would suggest that torture can never achieve results, what’s crucial here is that despite the arguments of torture proponents, who maintain that the methods were necessary because some information couldn’t be achieved any other way, torture failed to acquire the key information from the detainees while they were subject to the worst treatment. U.S. officials told the Associated Press that not only did KSM fail to give up the crucial information during waterboarding, but that he revealed it “many months later under standard interrogation.” Torture not only failed, but it failed by torture supporters own arbitrary standards.
It’s tempting to think that this new “debate” over torture is primarily about efficacy or morality. As Dan Froomkin wrote last week, a 2006 Study by the National Defense Intelligence College found that “trained interrogators found that traditional, rapport-based interviewing approaches are extremely effective with even the most hardened detainees, whereas coercion consistently builds resistance and resentment.” Torture creates other problems even when it works, and it’s fundamentally immoral. As McCain writes today, “This is a moral debate. It is about who we are.” The United States should not measure its own morality using its enemies as a yardstick.
This debate though, is primarily about politics. Bush apologists need his administration’s torture program to be vindicated in order to take some credit for a manhunt they abandoned in 2006, before the Obama administration took it up again.
With some Republican Senators promising to grill Leon Panetta and General David Petraeus over the effectiveness of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” in their upcoming confirmation hearings for Defense Secretary and CIA Director respectively, one wonders how many Republicans in the Senate will sign onto protecting the Bush legacy rather than American values and the rule of law. We know at least one Republican Senator won’t.