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Torture Watch

Brian Stelter writes in the New York Times: "In late 2007, there was the first crack of daylight into the government's use of waterboarding during interrogations of Al Qaeda detainees. On Dec. 10, John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer who had participated in the capture of the suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in 2002, appeared on ABC News to say that while he considered waterboarding a form of torture, the technique worked and yielded results very quickly.

"Mr. Zubaydah started to cooperate after being waterboarded for 'probably 30, 35 seconds,' Mr. Kiriakou told the ABC reporter Brian Ross. 'From that day on he answered every question.'

"His claims — unverified at the time, but repeated by dozens of broadcasts, blogs and newspapers — have been sharply contradicted by a newly declassified Justice Department memo that said waterboarding had been used on Mr. Zubaydah 'at least 83 times.'"

I wrote about Kiriakou in my December 11, 2007, column. While I focused on his willingness to call waterboarding what it is -- torture -- I also noted that he was making "the unsubstantiated claim that torture worked. Kiriakou told Ross...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.'"

I contrasted that with Ron Suskind's reporting that Zubaydah was a mentally ill minor functionary and that most if not all of the information he provided to the CIA under duress was either old news -- or entirely made up.

Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald today documents: "(a) just how pervasive that 'Zubayduh-confessed-after-30-seconds' myth became and -- more importantly -- (b) how obvious it was to real journalists that Kiriakou's claim required serious skepticism and doubt."

Kevin Drum blogs for Mother Jones: "Kiriakou's testimony was immensely influential at the time, but it's pretty clear now that he was wrong: unless the CIA continued waterboarding him just for sport, Zubaydah didn't break after a single session. Or ten sessions. Or fifty. And if Kiriakou was wrong about that, what are the odds that he was also wrong about the 'dozens of attacks'? Or about the fact that waterboarding was responsible for any actionable information at all?

"Ron Suskind, on the other hand, hasn't been contradicted at all. As near as I can tell, his reporting has stood up almost perfectly in the face of subsequent evidence. If you want to know what really happened to Zubaydah, his book remains the gold standard for now."

Meanwhile, former war crimes prosecutor Mark J. McKeon writes in a Washington Post op-ed that "we cannot expect to regain our position of leadership in the world unless we hold ourselves to the same standards that we expect of others. That means punishing the most senior government officials responsible for these crimes. We have demanded this from other countries that have returned from walking on the dark side; we should expect no less from ourselves...

"[T]orture and cruel treatment are as much violations of international humanitarian law as are murder and genocide. They demand a judicial response. We cannot expect the rest of humanity to live in a world that we ourselves are not willing to inhabit."

Washington Post opinion columnist Richard Cohen calls for repudiation of torture "because it degrades us and runs counter to our national values." He even likens the Bush-era torture memos to the work of Nazis.

But he insists that "it is important to understand that abolishing torture will not make us safer. Terrorists do not give a damn about our morality, our moral authority or what one columnist [Paul Krugman] called 'our moral compass.'"

After citing his vivid memories of 9/11, he repeats: "I know that nothing Obama did this month about torture made America safer."

But Cohen doesn't address the evidence that our torture policies served as a hugely effective recruitment tool for our enemies. In congressional testimony last year, for instance, Former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora listed three ways torture had made America -- and specifically its troops -- less safe. Most significantly, he said "there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."

There's also some new poll data out on torture. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Marjorie Connelly write in the New York Times that the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll "found broad support for Mr. Obama's approach on a variety of issues, including one of the most contentious: whether Congress should investigate the harsh interrogation tactics authorized by George W. Bush. Sixty-two percent of Americans share Mr. Obama's view that hearings are unnecessary."

But consider that the poll only asked about a congressional investigation -- while advocates of further investigation are much more focused on either setting up an independent commission or appointing a special prosecutor.

Among the other findings, 46 percent said waterboarding "and other aggressive interrogation tactics" are never justified, compared to 37 percent who said they are sometimes justified. And 71 percent said they consider waterboarding to be torture.

And a new Gallup Poll "finds 51% of Americans in favor and 42% opposed to an investigation into the use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects during the Bush administration."

Asked if there were to be an investigation, who they would want to conduct it, only 8 percent said Congress; 25 percent said a bipartisan commission; 22 percent said the Justice Department; and 43 percent expressed no preference.

Another finding, however, is disturbing -- and can't be written off to bad wording. I guess journalists aren't doing a sufficient job of explaining what really happened.

Asked "Based on what you know or have read, do you think the use of harsh interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects was justified or not justified?", 55 percent said they found them justified.

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 28, 2009; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  Torture  
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Comments

Torture is an absolute prohibition, both under international and US laws, full stop. What is the relevancy to "polling data" anyway? Torture simply can't be treated as an "option", driven by so-called public "approvals". Here is the consequence of 8 years of unquestioning obeisance to the folly and expediencies of the "war on terror", where the arguments for torture - i.e., the commission of criminal acts - have been framed as "national security imperatives", or, "torture works" and the like. It's quite remarkable how readily a seemingly "slam-dunk" issue - torture is a crime - has now been accorded the status of a "technique", subject not to scrutiny within a strictly legal context but as a politically-justifiable action to "protect the lives of the American people". Then, what is the point of the Bill of Rights, if the 4th, 5th, and 8th Amendments can be cast aside in the interest of "national security"? That the public debate on this issue has gotten where it is today is a pathetic commentary on how so-called "opinion-makers" and a complaisant mass media can convince significant numbers of Americans that state-sponsored torture is permissible under certain circumstances, despite the absolute moral, ethical, and legal proscriptions raised against such action.

Posted by: Gregor_Samsa | April 28, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Dan,
You forgot to add Sen. Kit Bond's (R) take. President Obama's release of torture memos has ruined our ability to use this on future POW's. Ruined! As for SERE training. I have to believe its quite different mentally when your the prisoner of your enemy. Even if the torture was precisely the same.

Posted by: prober1 | April 28, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Prober1 I certainly hope that this ruins our ability to torture inthe future. Kudos for Kit for stating the obvious. Though I know he was stating it from a position of anger.

Posted by: m_mcmahon | April 28, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

For all the discussion on Torture -- why haven't we heard from the leaders of the "religious right"? Despite the fact that it is wrong, for moral, ethical and legal reasons. Maybe they really are the "religious wrong". As Huffington has said "it is not right vs. left -- it is right vs. wrong."

Posted by: deblacksmith | April 28, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

When the day comes that DOJ officials have to debate on whether to inforce the law or not, this nation will be over. That day has come and gone. They choose not to enforce the law. Welcome to the United Police States of America. Free handguns and tasers for all citizens.

Posted by: davidbn27 | April 28, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Continued use of euphemisms produces confused results. If you poll people about "harsh interrogation techniques", you will get a result which reflects the relatively non-threatening jargon. If you ask the very same people if they approve of "torture" or more specifically "waterboarding", they will, of course, mostly disapprove because it's criminal and inhuman.

The media is just playing along with the Cheney-Bush Gang by continuing to use bogus characterizations which were handed them by BushCo propaganda functionaries.

Cheney-Bush et al. tortured people deliberately, premeditatedly, and repeatedly. They did not use merely "harsh interrogation techniques". Torture is the course they took, contrary to US and international laws. People don't need to decide about "harsh interrogation techniques" because those were not used and are not at issue. People also do not have to decide about whether torture is ok or not, because it has already been universally banned.

So it would seem that the only question your polls are actually asking is whether or not the USA should enforce federal and international laws which were clearly and deliberately broken by the highest echelons of the criminal Cheney-Bush regime. Why is there any question about that?

Posted by: mgloraine | April 28, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Asked "Based on what you know or have read, do you think the use of harsh interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects was justified or not justified?", 55 percent said they found them justified.
_____
How do you like those apples Froomkin???

Posted by: sovine08 | April 28, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Why is no one asking why they tortured? Maybe because torture is the only way to get confessions out of innocent men. We have been told the myth of 911 so many times that most of us believe the Arabs did it. IF that were true, why have we not caught and tried a single terrorist in a legitimate court of law? Seven years, and not one 'suspect' can be convicted, with witnesses and evidence, of having any part in 911. Isn't it time to question the whole cover story of 911? Maybe we should waterboard Bush and Cheney to get the truth.

Posted by: shaman7214 | April 28, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

unless the CIA continued waterboarding him just for sport, Zubaydah didn't break after a single session. Or ten sessions. Or fifty.
____
Umm heres a question.. if someone can be waterboarded over 50 times or over 80 times without breaking.. how TORTUREOUS could it be??? Seems to me if he was REALLY tortured.. 4 5 times tops before he breaks.

Posted by: sovine08 | April 28, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

unless the CIA continued waterboarding him just for sport, Zubaydah didn't break after a single session. Or ten sessions. Or fifty.
____
Umm heres a question.. if someone can be waterboarded over 50 times or over 80 times without breaking.. how TORTUREOUS could it be??? Seems to me if he was REALLY tortured.. 4 5 times tops before he breaks.

_____

Alternative possibility:

When he wasn't being tortured, he told them the truth: "I've told you all I know". So they tortured him again, and he told them more stuff so they would stop. Doesn't matter that he made it up, it got them to stop.

Posted by: sourpuss | April 28, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

sovine08: Umm heres a question.. if someone can be waterboarded over 50 times or over 80 times without breaking.. how TORTUREOUS could it be??? Seems to me if he was REALLY tortured.. 4 5 times tops before he breaks.
------------------------------------------- sovine08, I'll type slowly so even you can understand. He didn't "break" (give whatever information his torturers wanted to hear), because he had already given up everything he knew before being waterboarded, AND DIDN'T HAVE ANYTHING MORE TO TELL.

Posted by: bienefes | April 28, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

"if someone can be waterboarded over 50 times or over 80 times without breaking.. how TORTUREOUS could it be???"

Every time I think I've heard the most absurd, ill-informed rubbish ever to spew from your keyboard, you manage to top it. You're such a whirlwind of misinformation, goalpost-moving, and nonlinear thought processes that it's hard to keep up with what you think, so I'm glad you've clearly positioned yourself on the Communist/Traitor side of this torture debate.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 28, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Dan,

You have done a great job of tracking down the facts about the numerous false claims by the Bush crew. Until some actual facts, dates, characters, arrests can be cited then it's all nonsense.

Posted by: farkdawg | April 28, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

sovine08,
Could you provide some background - I'm not going to ask about your credentials or clearances.

Where do you obtain your information about the effectiveness of torture as an interrogation method?

Who gave you the idea that "if someone can be waterboarded over 50 times or over 80 times without breaking.. how TORTUREOUS could it be???" Since we've read this from many people, it's not your original thought. But I'd like to know the source.

I suggest you do some reading of facts from American interrogators as well as torture victims. You might consider Ali Soufan, Matthew Alexander, or Robert Coram's fine book about Bud Day, Medal of Honor Awardee.

You have read at least one of these, haven't you?

Posted by: boscobobb | April 28, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

If we don't investigate war crimes and prosecute war criminals, we don' rejoin the civilized world. It's that simple.

Personally, I miss the days when we were part of the civilized world. I remember when we were even regarded as a leader.

Posted by: jpk1 | April 28, 2009 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Who gave you the idea that "if someone can be waterboarded over 50 times or over 80 times without breaking.. how TORTUREOUS could it be???" Since we've read this from many people, it's not your original thought. But I'd like to know the source.
_____
That's what FROOMKIN said.. he is MY SOURCE. and I quote "unless the CIA continued waterboarding him just for sport, Zubaydah didn't break after a single session. Or ten sessions. Or fifty."

Posted by: sovine08 | April 28, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

sovine08, I'll type slowly so even you can understand. He didn't "break" (give whatever information his torturers wanted to hear), because he had already given up everything he knew before being waterboarded, AND DIDN'T HAVE ANYTHING MORE TO TELL.
____
How do you know.. were you there? You are reading the same Froomkin nonsense I'm reading so you don't know for sure either. BTW you put little faith in our CIA. Do you think they would be so stupid to believe any thing this guy said?? ALL information would be CHECKED and verified. Where he lied or made up information he would be interogatied again (which explains why it took so many try's to get to the truth).

Posted by: sovine08 | April 28, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Ahh sovine Froomkin did not say that he did not break. He merely repeated what was written in a governmental report. You are assuming he broke or didn’t break. My assumption is that he told them what they wanted to hear, then they wanted to hear more and more so he told them whatever he thought they wanted. There was no breaking him, he simply had nothing to offer that they did not already know. It all ties back to my theory that Cheney and co wanted torture to happen because they liked it. They deliberately set it up so that they could argue these guys were outside Geneva and outside all other legal systems. (Ever notice the contradiction in their arguments? You know these guys are not subject to Geneva conventions etc… then they argue that prisoners of war don’t get lawyers and access to the courts? Hmm not subject to Geneva which covers POW’s, yet they are POW’s not allowed access to courts. The intellect needed to come up with that is simply dizzying) Once outside all legal systems the administration could have any punishment meted out that they saw fit. Where is my source? Same place you come up with your conjecture except I am reading the reports and drawing conclusions based on what I read and am filling in the blanks on my own.

Posted by: m_mcmahon | April 28, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

"Asked "Based on what you know or have read, do you think the use of harsh interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects was justified or not justified?", 55 percent said they found them justified."

Thanks in part to Brian Ross and John Kiriakou! Of course, Kiriakou was not even present when Abu Zubaydah was being tortured. He was getting all his false info second hand.

Posted by: unojklhh1 | April 28, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

You are assuming he broke or didn’t break. My assumption is that he told them what they wanted to hear
____
So this is a debate over what we both ASSUME??? Wow that will get us nowhere fast...

I am reading the reports and drawing conclusions based on what I read and am filling in the blanks on my own.
____
And so am I.. Except I'm filling in the blanks differently.

Posted by: sovine08 | April 28, 2009 7:02 PM | Report abuse

sovine your key words are "drawing conclusions based on what I read and am filling in the blanks on my own." In otherwords you are making assumptions. We are filling in the blanks differently. I suspect you are way off on how you fillle dyours in just as you suspect the same of me. However knowing the publicly displayed desire to "take the gloves off" of dirty dick and the compasionate conservative who publicly mocked a soon to be executed female prisoner, I would venture that time will prove out what I say and that is they simply wanted these guys, among others, cruelly punished because they do not believe in the American legal system...except when it protects them.

Posted by: m_mcmahon | April 29, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

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