"Interrogators got results, could face charges." That is a banner headline in today’s print edition of The Washington Times, and it neatly captures the conservative argument for President Bush's so-called enhanced interrogation program.
In this version, the American officers who had waterboarded the terrorists were doing a nasty job, but somebody had to do it, and it is not fair to punish them for carrying out their patriotic duty. It would be easy to dismiss such claims as the views of right-wing ideologues, except that nearly a decade after the terrorist attacks, the argument continues to capture people’s imagination.
The New York Times reports that “the interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots,” which sounds encouraging for aspiring torturers everywhere. Yet a closer look at the information provided by the CIA reveals a more complicated story: One of the CIA reports, which was apparently released in response to the inspector general’s damning 2004 account, according to The Times, says that “information elicited from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, chief planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,” had “dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on Al Qaeda’s plots.’”
Except that by the time the CIA got to KSM, as he is known, a London-based Al-Jazeera journalist, Yosri Fouda, had already spoken with him. KSM told Fouda the important things he knew during a two-day period they spent together in a secret location in Pakistan, several months after the death of The Wall Street Journal's Danny Pearl. KSM wanted an audience to hear about his horrific exploits, and excerpts from the interview appeared in the London Sunday Times in September 2002, as described in a Guantanamo transcript (Fouda has written about his encounter with KSM in his book Masterminds of Terror). By the time KSM was captured in March 2003, he’d already talked – a lot. Torture was redundant. As experienced interrogators know, the most effective tool is a can of Coke: You put it on the table, and talk to the suspect. Chances are you will find out everything you know, particularly if you are a close student of the subject and know what questions to ask and how to guide the conversation.
Ultimately, though, the question of whether or not torture works is irrelevant, as Adam has emphasized. Even if it were proven to be an effective method of extracting information, Americans should ask themselves whether that is the kind of activity that they want to engage in as a nation.