What a difference an election makes. Our national position has now shifted from “we don’t torture” to “we don’t torture anymore.”
Let us, then, disabuse ourselves of former President George W. Bush’s notion that waterboarding and the other so-called “harsh” or “enhanced” interrogation techniques are anything but torture. Euphemism is the first refuge of scoundrels – and the merely desperate.
President Barack Obama wants to help us as a country to reconcile our shameful torture period. He says repeatedly that he wants to “look forward” and “not backwards.” He absolved CIA officers from prosecution for the inhumanities of harsh interrogation. That’s OK by me. It’s not quite fair to prosecute the lower end of the food chain while top policymakers walk free.
But the torture debate won’t go away soon.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says the techniques were effective. Obama says, uh, not so fast.
So now that Cheney has a legacy to salvage and a sure-to-be-best-selling book in the works, he is relaxing even his famous obsession for secrecy. To back up his case, he is requesting through his publisher that the Obama administration release previously classified documents. Do it. Please.
In fact, don’t stop there, Mr. Cheney. Let’s have a full-fledged truth commission-style investigation.
Former Bush speechwriter Marc A. Thiessen argued dramatically in an April 21 Washington Post op-ed that “without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.”
But, as Slate.com senior editor Tim Noah was the first to note, the big flaw in Thiessen’s claim is chronology. Bush’s own counterterrorism officials told reporters that the L.A. plot effectively ended when its cell leader was arrested in February 2002. Sheikh Mohammad was not captured until March 2003, a year after the Bush White House said the plot fell apart. So much for Thiessen’s “hole in the ground.”
Does torture work? Contrary to the certainty expressed by Cheney and Co., torture has been a topic of heated debate within the intelligence community and between the CIA, FBI, and the State and Justice departments for years.
More significant, Ali Soufan, an FBI interrogator who worked closely with Zubaydah, says the FBI did extract crucial intelligence, but long before Zubaydah was subjected to harsh techniques. In an op-ed in The New York Times and a series of interviews with Newsweek, Soufan described how he and an FBI colleague got the terror suspect talking by gaining his confidence without violence.
Then there’s National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, Obama’s top intelligence adviser. He told intelligence personnel on April 16 that “high-value information” came from harsh interrogation methods. But in a later statement, he backed away, saying “there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means.”