Torture memo author John Yoo is the latest torture dead-ender to insist that the U.S. only found Osama bin Laden because of Bush-era torture policies. But for Yoo, the author of several Bush-era memos justifying torture, the quest to vindicate so-called "harsh interrogations" is even more transparently self serving.
Reporting from a debate at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Dahlia Lithwick conveyed Yoo’s remarks:
“Take a look at how we were able to kill al-Qaida's leader this year. How did we get the intelligence for finding Bin Laden’s couriers and ultimately Bin Laden? It was a combination of interrogation methods, sometimes tough or harsh, you can call it torture. I don’t call it torture. You can repeat the word torture all the time, I can repeat coercive interrogation all the time. Take a look at the actual methods, and people can decide for themselves whether they constitute torture or not.”
This has become an article of faith for Bush supporters and torture fans — Marc Thiessen tried to compare torture opponents to “birthers” for denying that torture lead to finding bin Laden, calling them “CIA deniers.” The opposite is true, and the most prominent of “CIA deniers” would be the man who headed the CIA when bin Laden was found — Leon Panetta. Panetta explained that “some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier,” and that “no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts,” which were obtained “through other intelligence means.”
An internal evaluation from the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department determined that Yoo’s shoddy legal reasoning violated professional ethics. Those findings were overruled by a high-ranking Justice official, but Yoo asking other people to do their homework is like Glenn Beck telling someone to lay off the conspiracies theories — Yoo’s selective reading of the law is how those techniques were authorized in the first place.
Andrew Sullivan asks whether Yoo would define the same techniques as torture if they were used on Americans, but this misses the entire point of the relativistic brand of “American exceptionalism” to which Yoo subscribes. It’s not torture when we do it, because we’re America, and America doesn’t torture. It’s torture when they do it because they’re not America.
Republicans attributing the discovery of bin Laden’s hideout to torture were being transparently self-serving — they were searching for a means to claim some measure of credit for something Obama did in two years what Bush was unable to do in seven. But for Yoo, this is deeply personal — it was his hack legal reasoning that led to the techniques being authorized in the first place. Yoo is not merely lying about torture to justify his actions; he’s also trying to turn himself into a hero. What he’s really saying is “I’m the reason Obama got bin Laden.” In Yoo’s mind, we shouldn’t be criticizing him — we should be planning a parade in his honor.