Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats are set to conclude that Bush-era torture policies simply didn’t produce the results that supporters have claimed. As Mark Hosenball reports in an important scoop, the evidence simply doesn’t “substantiate claims by some Bush supporters that the harsh interrogations led to counter-terrorism coups.”
Remember, for such techniques, euphemized by supporters as “enhanced interrogation,” to be good policy several things have to be true, of which producing useful intelligence would only be one. They would also have to produce intelligence that could not be obtained from conventional means; that intelligence would have to outweigh the false leads that torture is known to produce; and the net value of that intelligence would have to outweigh the very real costs of establishing a reputation as a nation that employs torture. And that’s just the practical side; there’s also the legal jeopardy involved in violating international law (which has practical implications as well), and of course the questions about morality involved.
So it’s important not to be fooled into thinking that any evidence that torture produced useful intelligence would justify the policy. But apparently, as expert interrogators have long maintained, Diane Feinstein’s committee has found that it doesn’t even do that.
The real bad news here is that torture supporters are unlikely to accept the results. And as long as one political party supports torture, it’s likely to return. I’ve suggested that what’s really needed is a presidentially-appointed commission with full Republican buy-in that could set out the facts in as complete detail as possible (including, to be sure, any evidence that would support the Bush-era policies). Indeed, in my view getting to that point would be so important for torture opponents that it would be worth pre-emptive presidential pardons for everyone involved, along with generous comments from Barack Obama (whether sincere or not) accepting that whatever mistakes were made in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks were surely well-intentioned in the Bush Administration’s understandable efforts to protect the American people. Perhaps not; perhaps there’s some other path to barring a return to torture in future administrations. And this is certainly not something that Obama is going to act on in the months leading up to the November election. But unless something changes, I think it’s quite likely that torture will return in the future, no matter how much evidence mounts against it.