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Did Torture Work?

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 11, 2007; 1:13 PM

In interviews yesterday and this morning, a former CIA agent called waterboarding what it is. Not "enhanced interrogation" or "harsh tactics." Simply: torture.

It's a notable achievement in the battle against the Orwellian doubletalk infesting the national discourse and the news coverage about this important issue.

John Kiriakou, who participated in the capture and questioning of the first al-Qaeda terrorist suspect to be waterboarded, also made clear that every decision leading to the torture of CIA detainees was documented and approved in cables to and from Washington. That's a step forward for accountability after two gigantic steps back last week, when it emerged that the CIA had destroyed videotapes of two of its torture sessions.

But Kiriakou, whose first interview was with Brian Ross of ABC News, also made the unsubstantiated claim that torture worked. Kiriakou told Ross yesterday that, as a result of waterboarding, suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah coughed up information that "disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."

Ross asked Kiriakou to say a bit more about those thwarted attacks: "Were they on US soil? Were they in Pakistan?"

Kiriakou replied: "You know, I was out of it by then. I had moved onto a new job. And I-- I don't recall. To the best of my recollection, no, they weren't on US soil. They were overseas."

But where's the evidence?

Like Kiriakou, Bush last year described Zubaydah as a senior terrorist leader who divulged crucial information under questioning.

But, as I wrote in Friday's column, Bush and the Torture Tapes, investigative reporter Ron Suskind has written that Zubaydah was a mentally ill minor functionary, and that most if not all of the information he provided to the CIA was either old news -- or entirely made up.

There are many reasons why Americans should be skeptical about assertions that terrorist attacks were thwarted as a result of what administration officials would call "enhanced interrogation." (I enumerated some of the reasons last month at NiemanWatchdog.org, where I am deputy editor.)

But it all boils down to the fact that, so far, no one from Bush on down has come up with a single documented example of American lives saved thanks to torture.

Kiriakou Speaks

Joby Warrick and Dan Eggen write in The Washington Post: "A former CIA officer who participated in the capture and questioning of the first al-Qaeda terrorist suspect to be waterboarded said yesterday that the harsh technique provided an intelligence breakthrough that 'probably saved lives,' but that he now regards the tactic as torture.


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