Right on Cue, the Counter-Argument to the Torture Apology Comes Out

Three years ago, I rather sheepishly gave Dianne Feinstein kudos for the seriousness of the Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into torture. I said then–and I maintain now–that reports of the investigation make it sound like a far more substantive investigation than I had at first worried it would be.

But I will say that the apparent timing of its release seems unfortunate. Because it is likely to come out in the wake of the Jose Rodriguez propaganda, the SSCI report is being portrayed as the other side of a two-sided debate rather than the result of the sustained, exhaustive inquiry it is.

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.


President Barack Obama and his aides have largely sought to avoid revisiting Bush administration controversies. But the debate over the effectiveness of enhanced interrogations, which human rights advocates condemn as torture, is resurfacing, in part thanks to a new book by a former top CIA official.

In the book, “Hard Measures,” due to be published on Monday, April 30, the former chief of CIA clandestine operations Jose Rodriguez defends the use of interrogation practices including water-boarding, which involves pouring water on a subject’s face, which is covered with a cloth, to simulate drowning.

Whether the timing–coming out just as Mitt Romney and his torturer-advisors face off against Obama in the General Election–was planned or not, the effect will be to turn torture into a campaign issue with two sides treated as legitimate by a spineless press, rather than one side with self-preservation in mind and the other with exhaustive study.

And sadly, that will probably mean the most interesting (and politically explosive) result of the investigation gets lost, relegated to paragraph 26 of 27.

Critics also say that still-classified records are likely to demonstrate that harsh interrogation techniques produced far more information that proved false than true.

Dana Priest reveals that, when Jose Rodriguez tried to persuade her not to publish news of the black sites in 2005, he tried to argue torture “was producing real results and helping to keep the country safe.” We’re about to get validation that the example of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was not unique (though his treatment was included in the scope of the SSCI study). If torture “was producing real results” those results were false confessions, not real intelligence.

If we’re going to have a debate about torture, the fact that Cheney and his torturers used it to create false stories to–among other things–get us into the Iraq War should be at the center of that debate.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

12 replies
  1. klynn says:

    “If we’re going to have a debate about torture, the fact that Cheney and his torturers used it to create false stories to–among other things–get us into the Iraq War should be at the center of that debate.”

    And, as your series shows…that the Executive has not been granted authority from Congress. How is Congress able to when they are never fully briefed on the programs and tactics employed?

  2. Jeff Kaye says:

    One must expect the torture party to be well-prepared for the SSCI report. They’ve had many months to do this. No doubt Rodriguez’s book is part of this. The only ammunition we have is the truth, and a mostly unredacted report will also contribute greatly to framing the argument.

    It is a testimony of how debased the country has become that torture is even framed as a debate. There is nothing we can do to immediately change that at this time. The other side is doing all it can to press their advantages.

    Also remember, this is a vanguard assault, in that the defense of the EITs is meant to protect the even more deeply embedded KUBARK/DDD psychological torture techniques, such as those encapsulated (only partly hidden) within the Army Field Manual. The discussion of “torture” is a discussion framed around “physical” torture. Many of the critics of “physical” torture are okay with prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation, induction of debility, manipulation of phobias (as long as they aren’t insects in a box), etc. The latter is the “scientific” form of torture, researched in the decades-long MKULTRA and associated programs.

    Only an insistence of the truth, the full truth, no matter where it takes us, can clean this utter mess up now. And it will involve a total upheaval in the way this country makes foreign policy, and even who runs this country. Because the latter are now in the thrall of the torture party, one way or another. This doesn’t mean there aren’t allies in government, or internal contradictions within the torture party itself we can’t use for our advantage.

    Keep up the good fight. A big battle may ensue over the actual release of this report. The biggest enemy, tactically, may be within SSCI itself right now, as the fight goes on in regards to what actually is released. The SASC-Levin report failed just there. SASC had interviews with top military officials who approved, or even pushed, the torture from the Pentagon, such as with Brig. Gen. Thomas Moore or Brig. Gen. Lyle Koenig, but they didn’t ever even tell the public that… I had to ask specifically, i.e., make a guess, and then they responded in the affirmative. That kind of behavior, and too many redactions and unreleased documents hobbled the effect, which was still tremendous, of that report. We don’t want a repeat of that on the SSCI report.

  3. Brenda Koehler says:

    I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that anyone would really say that torture–TORTURE–“was producing real results and helping to keep the country safe.”

    It’s just so nakedly depraved. How could anyone even say that and not be totally shunned by normal civilized people?

  4. GKJames says:

    A “debate” on torture? In the US?? In an election year??? If putting on full display the prevailing national psychosis is the aim, yes. Let’s be clear, though, that the one crucial element will continue to be missing from the equation: full disclosure of material facts subject to cross-examination and rebuttal. Instead, we’ll have gas-bags regaling us with mythical tales of self-less heroism. As for the progressive side of the spectrum, only the fewest of the few will dare even utter the word “torture.”

  5. JTMinIA says:

    @Brenda Koehler: I agree, which is why I disagree with EW on this (as I have from the start). I do not think that anyone should say/write things like: “If we’re going to have a debate about torture, the fact that Cheney and his torturers used it to create false stories to–among other things–get us into the Iraq War should be at the center of that debate.” I think that raising the question of the veracity of the information extracted by torture is exactly the wrong thing to do because it gives the impression that whether torture produces accurate information is in any way relevant to the question of whether we should torture. It isn’t. In fact, even if someone had the secret to world peace, but refused to tell us, and you were absolutely sure that the secret they had would work and that torture would extract the secret intact, you still shouldn’t torture. Efficacy is the red herring that the torture folks wave in everyone’s face. Do not bite. It’s irrelevant. (And as Opus’ girlfriend Lola Granola would tell you: herring breath is disgusting, anyway.)

  6. lysias says:

    Not just to get us into Iraq. If you look at the footnotes to the 9/11 Commission Report, you will find that the sources for that report’s account of the operational details of 9/11 are interrogations of detainees, some of whom we know were tortured, all of whom were subjected at the least to severe psychological pressure.

  7. lysias says:

    @JTMinIA: That the torture produced false confessions — and should have been known before the fact to produce false confessions — is very relevant to determining the motives of those who made the decision to torture.

  8. emptywheel says:

    @JTMinIA: Just to second what lysias said. I respect your point about not contesting the accuracy of torture. But I’m suggesting that torture was used precisely because accuracy was not what they wanted, which is a different issue entirely.

  9. JTMinIA says:

    Apologies. I seemed to have missed the point of what I quoted because I assumed it was the same point that we disagreed about before. If the point this time was that they chose torture because it would get them false information and that the larger point was to show how awful the torturers really are, then I agree.

    But I do worry, as you know, that any discussion of the accuracy of torture-gotten “information” will devolve into the framing that I so object to, even if, as in this case, that wasn’t what you wanted to do. Until I see consistent agreement that torture is flat-out wrong, which I see as the single most important point to make, I prefer not to muddy the waters.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    @emptywheel: Amen. As Jeff Kaye has pointed out many times, that torture produced unreliable factual information, lies or truth spread like raisins in a sticky dough of lies and fantasy, was well known. No, CheneyBush chose to use torture because it wanted to intimidate, humiliate and recruit. Its relationship to national security was as tenuous as Mr. Obama’s Peace Prize was to his real efforts to make peace.

  11. emptywheel says:

    @JTMinIA: It’s an important point. I probably would have been better served had I reminded that they did this for exploitation, with all that entails, not just for information.

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