In the wake of the Bin Laden’s capture, some Republicans have been claiming that Bush really should be getting credit for the Bin Laden’s capture. Why? Because Bush was the president who came up with the idea of torturing fighters picked up in Afghanistan for information. The idea is that the name of Bin Laden’s courier was picked up through torturing KSM or other detainees at Gitmo, and following this courier led the CIA to Bin Laden’s hiding spot. Here’s why that’s BS.
1) It’s likely that the courier was or could have been found through ordinary interrogation or interviews. In fact, apparently KSM revealed the name of the courier several months after being waterboarded. I’m not a simulated drowning expert, but I don’t think its supposed to have a months-long delay effect. Even then, KSM only said he know the courier, and denied he was of any importance. Apparently there was other information from other detainees that may have helped the CIA figure out KSM was understating the courier’s importance, but it is unclear what techniques were used. If there were so many detainees giving information about the courier, was torture even necessary to find out who he is?
2) The information gained through torture was a very small piece of the puzzle. According to the AP article, the torture and months-later interviews of KSM and others happened in 2003 or 2004. CNN, interestingly, reports that the courier’s name was learned “four years ago – or 2007. It’s unclear why there is a discrepancy between these dates, but I think the most likely reason is that the information gained through torture was not effective in figuring out that the courier was important, or maybe it could not have been sorted from all the false, “tell them what they want to hear” information that tortured detainees tend to provide. In any case, according to the real breakthrough happened when a phone call from that courier was intercepted by the CIA.
3) We don’t know what would have happened if torture was not used. Taking almost 10 years to find the most-wanted leader of a global terrorist organization, who was living in a prominent and mysterious mansion with several other people inside an allied suburb, is hardly a resounding success. What if we used other techniques? If we did not placate ourselves with the notion that tortured Al Qaeda fighters would just tell us where Bin Laden was, would we have focused more on human intelligence from the start? Or put people on the ground in Pakistan early, or tried to infiltrate Al Qaeda? Would we have gotten more cooperation from Pakistani authorities or even the Pakistani people? Would it have taken 1 year? 5 years? 20 years? Longer? The only answer is, we don’t know.
But whatever the truth is – this much is clear – it’s not worth it. In torturing detainees, we gave up America’s position as a leader on human rights. We lost the ability to tell nations like China that they should not violate human rights for security without hypocrisy. We quit the argument that democratic principles and respect for human rights leads to the best security (it actually does). And what did we get? At best – and with a very degree of doubt – we got only a small piece of the puzzle that could have been gained from other sources, that may have played some role in helping us get Bin Laden 6 or 7 years later. Other than that, there is virtually no evidence that torture has done any good whatsoever. The only other example is a supposed plot to fly planes into Heathrow Airport (a rather odd choice of attack considering the success of flying planes into skyscrapers), which no evidence exists for besides what was gained through torture. Was any of this information even helpful? We don’t know. Did it harm our public image, waste resources, and lead to the torture – and even death – of innocent people? Definitely. So how can torture be seen as anything other than a failure?