The Efficacy of Torture Post-Osama

May 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Following news of the death of Osama Bin Laden after an American military raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, former White House officials for the Bush administration were quick to praise President Obama. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in a rare moment of appreciation for our current president, noted that he wanted “to congratulate President Obama and the members of his national security team,” while former President Bush released a statement saying he had called Obama personally to offer congratulations.

But amid congratulations for the felling of the 9/11 mastermind, some Bush officials took a moment to remind the nation that they too played a role in Bin Laden’s capture and subsequent death. Paul D. Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense, noted that the succesful capture of Osama Bin Laden “also rested heavily on some of those controversial policies” of Bush’s administration. Additionally, Keep America Safe (Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol) gave credit to “the men and women of America’s intelligence services who, through their interrogation of high-value detainees, developed the information that apparently led us to bin Laden.” Those controversial policies mentioned by Wolfowitz and the interrogations credited by Keep America Safe, of course, were the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects and the use of waterboarding and other means of torture to extract intelligence.

Based on Wolfowitz and Keep America Safe’s account of the intelligence leading to the death of Bin Laden, one might believe it’s time to reopen the books on torture and break out the water barrels, rags and immobilization rack. A close look at the process through which Bin Laden was found, however, fails to suggest that torture led to any evidence that would have been otherwise unattainable.

Vital to the process of tracking down Bin Laden’s location were stories that led to the tracking of one of Bin Laden’s couriers. A New York Times article outlining the process of gathering intelligence on Bin Laden’s location noted:

“Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier. When the Americans ran the man’s pseudonym past two top-level detainees — the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; and Al Qaeda’s operational chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi — the men claimed never to have heard his name. That raised suspicions among interrogators that the two detainees were lying and that the courier probably was an important figure.”

The article goes on to explain that, after hearing of the courier in 2002, Bin Laden’s trail would later appear to have “gone cold” until CIA agents in the field were able to get the family name of the courier sometime after 2005. From there, more details emerged, including the courier’s full name, his license number, and eventually the compound housing Bin Laden that he frequented.

The Bush administration’s controversial tactics might appear to have made a minuscule contribution to locating Bin Laden. The most important detail that is suggested as originating from interrogations of detained terrorist suspects is the existence of the courier, but his name, location and movements were all gathered through clandestine operations in the field. Detailing this, Armando at Daily Kos writes “The first tip as to this hideout arrived six months ago and was due to “following the money.” How this connects to a “torture” success is not at all clear to me.” The Times article also only implies that the existence of the courier was found out through interrogations, it does not state directly that this piece of evidence was acquired during a waterboarding session or any other “harsh interrogation” allowed by the Bush administration. Thus, the one piece of evidence that MIGHT have come from torture cannot be directly traced to these methods, and, additionally, it would be impossible to argue that “harsh interrogations” would have been the only possible method of acquiring this intelligence if they were proven to be its origin.

Torture constitutes a breach of international law, domestic law, basic human principles and as many other judicial, religious or moralist texts that one could imagine. It has also yet to prove to be of any use whatsoever. Aside from the lack of any clear connection between “harsh interrogations” and the capture of Bin Laden or prevention of any terrorist attack, the use of these methods have also led to substantial legal complications in bringing terrorist suspects to trial, as any evidence against them acquired through torture cannot be used in court, military or civil. Hence, the “efficacy of torture post-Osama” is just what it was pre-Osama: nonexistent.

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§ One Response to The Efficacy of Torture Post-Osama

  • George Newell, Sr. says:

    Even if we assume that torture may be necessary in some circumstances, I don’t understand how or why information forced from a terrified human being might be considered useful or valid. I suspect that the argument for torture as proffered by the Bush administration is in reality a political ploy that has little to do with military intelligence. See, the argument goes, we are taking action to keep the country safe from terrorist. This strikes me as the ploy of a naive bully rather than that of wise leadership.

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