The Torture Question Won't Go Away
The value of torture is a problematic question that persists for Americans as long as the United States is unwilling to exclude itself from the notorious community of nations willing to consider and employ such tactics. A forthcoming report from the Senate Intelligence Committee seems to provide an answer to the question of value, but one can reasonably doubt that the findings will settle the practice of torture in American endeavors:
A nearly three-year-long investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats is expected to find there is little evidence the harsh "enhanced interrogation techniques" the CIA used on high-value prisoners produced counter-terrorism breakthroughs.
People familiar with the inquiry said committee investigators, who have been poring over records from the administration of President George W. Bush, believe they do not substantiate claims by some Bush supporters that the harsh interrogations led to counter-terrorism coups.
The backers of such techniques, which include "water-boarding," sleep deprivation and other practices critics call torture, maintain they have led to the disruption of major terror plots and the capture of al Qaeda leaders.
One official said investigators found "no evidence" such enhanced interrogations played "any significant role" in the years-long intelligence operations which led to the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden last May by U.S. Navy SEALs.
The CIA, according to Mark Hosenball's article for Reuters, allowed the SIC to review "millions of pages of written records charting daily operations of the interrogation program, including graphic descriptions of how and when controversial techniques were employed", and, "the inquiry said it consisted of as much as 2,000 pages in narrative accounts of how the CIA interrogation program worked, including specific case histories in which enhanced interrogation tactics were used"; the committee apparently hopes to "conduct a methodical assessment of whether enhanced interrogation techniques led to genuine intelligence breakthroughs or whether they produced more false leads than good ones". Hosenball also notes that "the CIA never carried out a scientific assessment of the program's effectiveness".
Republicans withdrew their support of the inquiry in 2009, citing contextual concerns under existing circumstances. And while the SIC has not offered any statements on the record about its findings or expected finish date, "committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein has made relatively strong statements about the lack of evidence that enhanced interrogations played any material role in generating information leading to bin Laden's killing".
Even now, over three years after the investigation began, critics of American torture practices argue that what is hidden from public eyes will only further indict the inefficacy of torture. "Critics", Hosenball reports, "also say that still-classified records are likely to demonstrate that harsh interrogation techniques produced far more information that proved false than true."
Considering the Reuters article, Steve Benen argues:
During the Bush/Cheney era and the debate over U.S. torture policy—that there was even a "debate" still strikes me as ridiculous—one of the key arguments from torture proponents like Dick Cheney was that these tactics worked. When American officials tortured terrorist suspects, we'd learn valuable information.
In some ways, the argument missed the point. Torture is illegal and morally reprehensible, so discussing its efficacy is irrelevant. But even if we move past those realizations, all available evidence suggests torture doesn't work, and those being interrogated will simply say anything to make the torture stop.
The evidence, as he sees it, is not even closely balanced pro and con. "The 'debate'," Benen writes, "such as it is, should be considered over."
Four years ago, we were able to put down the ticking time bomb myth after advocates of "enhanced interrogation", given an opportunity to explain their outlook before a Congressional committee, could not offer their House Judiciary hosts any reasonable explanation of what that situation would look like. Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) explained, "Radio silence was the response when today's witnesses were asked to identify a single example of a true 'ticking bomb' scenario ever occurring, even though such scenarios are often invoked to justify torture. These scholars, who have studied this issue extensively and have intimate knowledge of the legal authority the administration sought, could not identify a single example."
Now, conservative claims that torture led the Obama administration to Osama bin Laden—the "praise Dubya" outlook—are also in doubt.
Indeed, leaks about the SIC report also suggest that the long term ratio of wheat to chaff is similarly discouraging.
Many would agree with Benen that the fact of such a debate over the efficacy of torture as a moral justifier is significant in itself. Those who would disagree, however, find themselves losing the factual argument. One might wonder how the emerging facts affect the outlooks of torture advocates, and we will certainly hear some answers, especially as the question seems unwilling to quietly slink away and be forgotten.
Hosenball, Mark. "Exclusive: Senate probe finds little evidence of effective 'torture'". Reuters. April 27, 2012. Reuters.com. April 27, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/...83Q07J20120427
Benen, Steve. "Torture doesn't work". The Maddow Blog. April 27, 2012. MaddowBlog.MSNBC.MSN.com. April 27, 2012. http://maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com/_new...re-doesnt-work
Sciforums. "Putting a Myth to Rest: Ticking Time Bomb/One Hour". 2008. Sciforums.com. April 27, 2012. http://www.sciforums.com/showthread.php?t=80910