what other people think

What If Torture Did Work?

On Saturday, on a weekend where everyone was busy doing anything but paying attention to the news, the Washington Post ran a front-page story that makes the case that waterboarding and sleep deprivation, among other tactics, were successful at turning Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11, into the CIA’s best intelligence source in the war on terror. “What do you think changed KSM’s mind?” one source told them. “Of course it began with that.” Proponents of torture (most would call it “enhanced interrogation”) cheered — finally, the mainstream media is coming around the inevitable truth. But opponents of torture remain just as defiant — they maintain that the story is one-sided, relies on anonymous sources, and doesn’t actually make the case that torture lead directly to useful intelligence. And even if it did, should it matter?

• Michael Calderone looks at the sources the article used: “two sources who described the sessions, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much information about detainee confinement remains classified,” “one former senior intelligence official,” “one former U.S. official,” and “one former agency official.” The Post’s ombudsman recently “scolded” the paper for its use of anonymous sources. [Michael Calderone/Politico]

• Ben Smith thinks the story “bears all the marks of some complicated internal discussions over at the Post, which has been on the defensive since its reporting in the run-up to the Iraq war.” [Ben Smith/Politico]

• Rich Lowry says that the “fall-back position” of torture opponents is that it “can’t be proven in some absolute, laboratory-verified sense that the coercive techniques were necessary. But any fair-minded observer applying common sense to what we know — that the likes of KSM resisted prior to the tough interrogations, then cooperated thereafter — will conclude that they indeed worked.” [Corner/National Review]

• Andrew Sullivan writes that the story “does not and cannot prove that his information could not have been procured by legal or ethical interrogation methods.” Except for one quote, the Post omits “the fact that many regarded many of [Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s] claims after being tortured as being false.” Furthermore, there was “absolutely no reason for the Post to grant its main source “anonymity, except to promote the neoconservative project of torture as the core means for the war against terrorism.” [Atlantic]

• Glenn Greenwald defies “anyone to identify a single way the article would be different if the Post had let Dick Cheney write it himself.” In reality, it “does little more than claim that (a) Khalid Sheik Mohammed was subjected to ‘the CIA’s harshest interrogation methods’ (not ‘torture,’ of course), and (b) at some point after that, he provided valuable intelligence. At best, it’s nothing more than a statement of obvious chronology, not causation.” [Salon]

• Marc Ambinder examines the question of whether torture is effective (which “is kind of impossible” to prove) should even matter. For opponents of torture, the “burden of argument rests on us — we need to persuade people that the act of torture in a democratic society is always wrong, that the ticking-time-bomb scenario is rarely — if ever — the situation interrogators face, and that even if torture works in a few cases, it is not worth the moral (and tangible) costs to our country.” [Atlantic]

• Andy McCarthy calls the article the “the mainstream media’s white flag” on torture. Clearly, “tactics like sleep deprivation and waterboarding … worked, and to great effect.” If opponents of torture now want to make the case that we shouldn’t torture, then it would have to sound something like this: “While this is an excruciating choice, it would be better for thousands of Americans to be killed than to allow the CIA to use nonlethal coercive tactics (that cause no lasting physical or mental damage) on a terrorist who refuses to tell us what he knows about ongoing mass-murder plots.” [Corner/National Review]

• Adam Serwer writes that “[w]hat is known is that KSM talked after being waterboarded; the report does not claim that he talked because he was waterboarded. These sources are arguing a causal link that can’t be verified because of the redacted information, which means reporters have no way of assessing how accurate the claims are. We’ve seen this pattern before — it’s how we ended up in Iraq.” [Tapped/American Prospect]

What If Torture Did Work?