Sunday, May 10, 2009

Waterboarding - How can we justify it? Volume!

The conservative full-court press to defend torture continues. From today's Face the Nation appearance, something I noticed in former VP Dick Cheney's defense of waterboarding. He keeps insisting that two yet-unseen CIA memos prove "precisely how much was achieved" through enhanced techniques, including waterboarding. Nothing new in his rhetoric, I think, but his justification for using waterboarding is that it makes subjects much more talkative [Transcript page 4; Emphasis mine]:
SCHIEFFER: Well, Mr. Vice President, let me ask you this. I mean, I'm not asking you to violate any rules of classification, but is there anything you can tell us specifically that those memos would tell us? I mean, some information we gleaned, some fact that we got that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise?

CHENEY: That's what's in those memos. It talks specifically about different attack planning that was under way and how it was stopped. It talks about how the volume of intelligence reports that were produced from that.
But quantity does not mean quality. In March the Washington Post reported on the quality of "the volume of intelligence reports" gleaned from waterboarding Abu Zubaida:
The application of techniques such as waterboarding -- a form of simulated drowning that U.S. officials had previously deemed a crime -- prompted a sudden torrent of names and facts. Abu Zubaida began unspooling the details of various al-Qaeda plots, including plans to unleash weapons of mass destruction.

Abu Zubaida's revelations triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms. The interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla, the man Abu Zubaida identified as heading an effort to explode a radiological "dirty bomb" in an American city. Padilla was held in a naval brig for 3 1/2 years on the allegation but was never charged in any such plot. Every other lead ultimately dissolved into smoke and shadow, according to high-ranking former U.S. officials with access to classified reports.

"We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms," one former intelligence official said.
Jose Padilla, the one-time "dirty bomber," was convicted of being a "terrorist wannabe." Padilla's attorneys allege he was tortured in U.S. custody and his mind destroyed.

Canadian Maher Arar was identified in similar fashion and was detained while changing planes at JFK airport. Arar received an all-expenses paid rendition to Syria and regular beatings for ten months until being released. Another Canadian, Ahmad Abou El-Maati, named Arar after two years of torture in Syria for possible al-Qaida connections. According to The Guardian (London), El Maati eventually "reeled off the names of everyone he knew in Montreal," including Arar. The Canadian government has since apologized for its part in Arar's treatment and paid a cash settlement.

Torture may loosen tongues. It may have loosened Zubaida's and El-Maati's. It may even yield "volumes" of information, but that's not justification for a war crime. As Wanda Sykes joked at the end of her White House Correspondents' dinner performance on Saturday night, "That's like me robbing a bank and going in front of the judge and saying, 'Yes, Your Honor, I robbed a bank, but look at all these bills I paid.'"

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