Tell Me Again About How Torture Keeps Us Safe

January 23rd, 2009at 07:24am Posted by Eli

I mean, it’s not like it’s particularly effective at providing useful intelligence:

Interrogators are lauding President Obama for signing an executive order that will shut down secret CIA prisons and place the use of coercive interrogation techniques completely off limits.

“[The order] closes an unconscionable period in our history, in which those who knew least, professed to know most about interrogations,” said Joe Navarro, a former special agent and supervisor with the FBI.

“Some die-hards on the right – who have never interrogated anyone — are already arguing that forcing interrogations to be conducted within army field manual guidelines is a step backward and will result in ‘coddling’ dangerous terrorists,” retired Colonel Stuart Herrington, who served for more than 30 years as a military intelligence officer, said soon after the order was signed. “This is a common, but uninformed view. Experienced, well-trained, professional interrogators know that interrogation is an art. It is a battle of wits, not muscle. It is a challenge that can be accomplished within the military guidelines without resorting to brutality.

(…)

Getting a suspected terrorist to talk is much more subtle than what one typically sees in the movies or on TV. A new book, “How to Break A Terrorist” by Matthew Alexander (a pseudonym), provides an inside look at how interrogation can yield more information if it is done humanely.

Alexander developed the intelligence that led U.S. forces to Al Zarqawi, the former chief of Al Qaeda in Iraq. While some were using abusive techniques to try to crack detainees, Alexander used a smarter, more sophisticated approach. He learned what the detainees cared about and then used that information to get what he wanted.

(…)

To illustrate how torture can lead to poor intelligence, Nelson cites the case of Al Libi, a detainee who was tortured and, under duress, gave misinformation about a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. (Secretary Colin Powell quoted intelligence gained from Al Libi as justification to go to war with Iraq.)….

The challenge we face does not have to do with so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ ” said Nelson. “We don’t want those. What we do need is to build a world-class interrogation corps. To do that, we need to pay more attention to recruiting, training, and managing interrogators. President Obama’s executive order is an important first step but there is still more to do.”

Better interrogation, yes.  “Enhanced” interrogation, no.  They are not the same thing.  Torture is certainly easier – any sadist orsociopath off the street can do it.

But that’s not the only way that torture fails to make us safer:

One hesitates to say this will amount to anything, but Marc Lynch notes that Mohammed Essam Derbala, a leader of Ayman Zawahiri’s Egyptian terrorist group that merged with Al Qaeda in 1998, today urged his former confederates to declare a unilateral ceasefire to “test Barack Obama’s pledges to establish a new relationship with the Islamic world and to close Guantanamo.”…..

(…)

Let’s be clear about a few things. Derbala has no power to call for or enforce any Al Qaeda ceasefire. But consider how overwhelmingly significant it is that a former terrorist of such obvious credibility would say something like this. And why’d he say it? Because Barack Obama just renounced torture. He put the United States on a clear path to repudiating the detentions, interrogations and, as important, humiliations that Muslims consider the U.S. to have inflicted not just on terrorists, but the entire Muslim world. Part of Al Qaeda’s entire propagandistic message is that the U.S. is an unchanging brutish entity determined to subjugate the Muslim world. What Obama did today severely complicates that narrative. But it’s not enough for us to consider the narrative to be complicated — it takes Muslim figures of credibility to say so. That’s what Derbala just did.

This is what Carl Levin was getting at earlier today when he said that renouncing torture would have security benefits for the United States. It’s, of course, unclear what Al Qaeda would do. But in an important sense, Al Qaeda isn’t the target audience here. It’s the pool of potential Al Qaeda recruits. In March, an Air Force colonel in Iraq briefed reporters on what motivated foreign fighters to come to Iraq instead of remaining in their home countries living a normal life. The answer was often “an image from Abu Ghraib.” That’s what Obama’s actions today have taken off the table for the U.S.’s adversaries. Its importance shouldn’t be underestimated.

Torture is not just ineffective and morally wrong; it makes the Muslim world hate us, and makes al Qaeda’s recruiting easier.  It may have been very satisfying to Dubya and Cheney’s thuggish mentality to know that Bad Things were happening to people they don’t like, but it compromised both our intelligence-gathering capabilities and our moral standing.  And forwhat?

Entry Filed under: Bush,Foreign Policy,Obama,Prisoners,Terrorism,Torture


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