Cutting Through Right-Wing Spin On The CIA Torture Report

Conservatives are–predictably–trying to spin the 2004 Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s interrogation program as vindication of their view that torture successfully thwarted terrorist attacks.

Of course, that’s inaccurate:

The documents back up the Bush administration’s claims that intelligence gleaned from captured terror suspects had thwarted terrorist attacks, but the visible portions of the heavily redacted reports do not indicate whether such information was obtained as a result of controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding.


Strikingly, [the documents] provide little evidence for Cheney’s claims that the “enhanced interrogation” program run by the CIA provided valuable information. In fact, throughout both documents, many passages — though several are incomplete and circumstantial, actually suggest the opposite of Cheney’s contention: that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information the documents cite in defending the value of the CIA’s interrogations.

[All emphasis mine]

So, while some interrogated terror suspects did provide good intelligence, the report never asserts–and there’s nothing in the report which indicates– that “enhanced interrogation techniques” were the reason those suspects provided that intelligence.

More importantly, though, the D0J investigation isn’t about whether or not “enhanced interrogation techniques” worked, it’s about whether or not those techniques were legal–we’re trying to figure out if the CIA broke America’s anti-torture laws while interrogating terror suspects.

Conservatives take an ends-justify-the-means view on torture–as long as it works, it doesn’t matter what you do. Despite their view, though, the United States has a number of laws outlining exactly what is or is not permitted in interrogation situations.

If you assert that we can freely ignore those laws at will, what would stop an interrogator from, say, breaking a suspect’s legs? Or cutting his hands off? Or maybe kidnapping and harming his wife or children? If you believe American anti-torture laws can be discarded as long as American lives might potentially be saved, where do you draw the line? Do you even bother to? And how do you ensure that we don’t become, in some way, as bad as the terrorists we’re trying to stop?

The law is the law, and nobody in America can disregard it, no matter how compelling their justification. If the Bush administration thought that our anti-torture laws were too restrictive then they should have gotten Congress to change them. But by ignoring those laws, the Bush administration opened themselves up to the very investigation the DoJ is launching.

And even if we had tortured someone and gotten a good piece of intelligence, that wouldn’t prove that torture was necessary, just effective. Even if we had some kind of proof that waterboarding or death threats got us worthwhile intelligence, there’s nothing that says those are the only ways we could have obtained that intelligence.

In fact, like the quoted piece above says, there’s ample evidence that conventional interrogation techniques work as well–if not better–than torture. For instance, FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan received significant amounts of worthwhile, actionable intelligence from Abu Zubaydah using conventional, non-enhanced, non-torture techniques.

Sure, it’s possible that the CIA could have gotten that same information out of Zubaydah had they picked him up and waterboarded him 183 times, but they wouldn’t have had to.

That’s one of the biggest arguments undermining the conservative case for torture–even if you get torture to work, you can’t prove that was the only thing that would have worked.

Conservatives are throwing out strawmen arguments in the hopes that they can obstruct the DoJ’s investigation; they’re hoping that, if they yell “BUT IT WORKED” loud enough, they can scare the Obama administration away from upholding the law.

The United States of America is one of the best countries in the world because we are a democracy where laws–not men–are paramount. Allowing a President or his administration to violate the law would undermine everything our country stands for.  In America, people who break the law are brought to justice, regardless of whether or not they are politically powerful or have sympathetic justifications.