Things I Did Not Know

The intelligence coup that led to killing abu Musab al-Zarqawi did not come from the torture-based methods that had become almost universal at that time. Instead a renegade unit tried handling suspects with respect, a novel approach recommended by the notable terrorist lovers in Israeli intelligence. The unit found a guerilla leader’s hideout among other useful information.

We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques. A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
[…] I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse.

When I picture a schmuck like Andrew McCarthy turning on the laptop after an hour in a dark room ‘reviewing’ photos from abu Ghraib, and then reading this, the liberal in me feels something like sympathy. The flame of hope that he too could one day crush the fingers of a muslim child will die hard.






51 replies
  1. 1
    Brian J says:

    I’m sure I’ll get a lot of crap for saying this, but there would be an arguable case for torture if it yielded any sort of results. It’d still be inhumane, put any sort of diplomat or military individual at risk, damage our moral standing in the world, and fan the flames of anti-Americanism in the Middle East, but at least it would have gotten us something in return. Perhaps I’m missing something really big, but as far as I can tell, there’s been nothing worth noting that has been received by way of torture. So in addition to doing all of the things I described above, it doesn’t even achieve its intended purpose. It is, in other words, a ridiculous policy to defend.

  2. 2
    myiq2xu says:

    Torture is effective at obtaining confessions.

    It’s not so great at obtaining accurate information, because the torturee will say ANYTHING in hopes of making the torture stop.

  3. 3
    bago says:

    I spent part of this weekend calming down a guy who had just lost his wife to cancer. It’s amazing how having people close to you suddenly dead can bring things in to focus.

  4. 4
    bago says:

    Seriously, when people defend tactics that even Torque-fucking-mada described as worse than the rack…

  5. 5
    Mnemosyne says:

    What’s so frustrating is that this is what professional interrogators have been telling the DOD for YEARS. Torture may get you a large volume of information that looks really good when you send your reports to headquarters every week, but it doesn’t actually contain any useful information.

    IIRC, that was one of the reasons the FBI stopped working with the CIA and DOD. They didn’t just morally disapprove of torture — they knew from experience that torture was counterproductive to finding out information.

  6. 6
    RandomGuy says:

    A couple of years ago, there was a lengthy radio piece on NPR (damned liberals!): strong intelligence identified the location (Kabul, I think) of a high value target. Military team dispatched to recover the target. They knock on the door to find, astonishingly, the target opening the door; fight ensues. At some point, target, in his resistance, breaks a rib. Troops haul target to base. At base, target taken to interrogation room, troops point out to CIA interrogators that target may need, or at least is asking for, medical treatment. CIA states target is faking, handcuffs target behind the back, chains cuffs so that target’s wrists are above his shoulders. CIA orders guards out of room.

    Some time later, turns out the prisoner is dead, the broken rib puncturing a lung and suffocating the high value target. Unsurprisingly, no high-value information was obtained from the dead target, despite the risk taken by the apprehension team.

    Most compelling in the NPR (damn liberals!) piece was the 1st hand interviews with the (two?) military police standing outside the the interrogation room door. They had been courtmartialed and were in military prison for dereliction of duty due to the death of the prisoner on their watch, even though they previously had been ordered to cooperate with the CIA (like, leave the room when they tell you to). So they’re sitting in military prison and justifiably pissed off that the guys that actually killed an unarmed high value prisoner were back in the States.

    Let me make myself clear: the CIA breaks other country’s laws all the time and I’m fine with it. Shoot, if we can sneak someone into Iran with a fake passport and bug the Ayatollah’s conference room, that’s freaking awesome. But other policies need to be viewed in terms of the amount of counterproductive damage we’re doing to ourselves….

  7. 7
    El Cid says:

    In the old days, we didn’t want our agents to torture because we cared about how what we did shaped who we were.

    You didn’t want your society to torture because you didn’t want to be a society of torturers.

    You upheld the notion of dignity in office not because you were naive that others in the world might act in undignified manners, but because you wanted a society in which dignity was the norm, rather than the exception.

    You had fair trials and rules of evidence not because you were weak because you were overly sympathetic towards the accused, but because you wanted to live in a society which had fair trials and rules of evidence.

    The biggest lie the right wingers got over on the subject of torture these past few years is that they were motivated by matters of security, or even by vengeance; but that isn’t true.

    They wanted to torture because they wanted to be torturers. They wanted our nation to act in an undignified manner because they hate dignity itself.

    Nobody, but nobody hates America and what good people have wanted America to stand for like right wingers and Republicans.

  8. 8
    Jay C says:

    Tim, schmucks like Andrew McCarthy are probably going to continue to be schmucks, and probably positively revel in their faux-tough-guy schmuckitude from now til forever, AFA any abuses in the treatment of "terrorists" is concerned. McCarthy’s brave words from 2005 sound tinny and hollow today, but I’m not going to waste much time searching the ‘Net for any published retractions or apologies (Either for his right-out-of-an-episode-of-"24" notions about "intelligence", or his scornful sneering at Congress and John McCain). These clowns will go to their graves still blustering about how being "tough" is the only way to go in international relations, and bitching about how the bleeding-heart DFHs "lost" us something or other by their WATB "concerns" over "enhanced interrogation". Feh.

  9. 9
    Comrade Stuck says:

    When I picture a schmuck like Andrew McCarthy turning on the laptop after an hour in a dark room ‘reviewing’ photos from abu Ghraib

    I’m convinced that motherfuckers like MCcarthy and his wingnut brethren actually enjoy the idea, and practice of America torturing it’s enemies. Many of them are smart enough, and well read enough to know the info derived from torture is highly suspect, and that there are other ways of getting useful information. Yet they still promote it’s use and exaggerate it’s value.

    Maybe it’s some kind of personal gratification, or maybe it’s a kind of ideological coup for them. But whatever, I have no sympathy for their proclivities. They have made me a countryman of a country that is now a torturing one. They can go fuck themselves and their chickenhawk bedwetting fauxe patriotism.

    And BrianJ, i think your talking about the ticking bomb scenario which is about as likely to occur as me winning the Lotto. It’s a giant Red Herring.

  10. 10
    Elvis Elvisberg says:

    but there would be an arguable case for torture if it yielded any sort of results.

    That hypothetical would amount to an argument for prosecutorial discretion or for pardons, not for what the Bush administration has done: institutionalizing torture outside the rule of law.

  11. 11
    raft says:

    Brain J: sure.

    And if aliens from outer space attacked the Earth and cutting off Andrew McCarthy’s balls was the only way to defeat them, then that would be an arguable case for cutting off Andrew McCarthy’s balls, despite his vehement protests to the contrary. i would even selflessly volunteer to perform the task myself.

    i’m not knocking on you, but this really is the level of fantasy delusion that the neocon torture fetishists have been reduced too. IF torture worked… and IF we had credible information regarding an ongoing al Qaeda plot to detonate a nuclear weapon in the continental United States… and IF we had just taken into custody an al Qaeda militant who was in a position to know where and when the attack was to occur but who was refusing to cooperate… and IF thousands of Americans would die if we choose not to harm a hair on the terrorist’s head in an effort to extract the information that might save them… THEN would you torture? Huh? Wouldya? Wouldya, Members of Congress? The fact that none of those things have ever happened, or ever will happen, is purely immaterial for the neocon torture wank-fest. except that as a direct consequence of the work of Andrew Mccarthy and his ilk, thousands of mostly innocent people in the real world have actually been tortured, soldiers have died, our reputation has been shredded, and we are all less safe.

    p.s. in case you think the above scenario was an strawman portrayal of the torture fetishist argument, no, they are all direct verbatim quotes from the McCarthy piece Tim F linked above:

    We should be asking this question of each and every member of Congress who claims to support the McCain Amendment: If we had credible information regarding an ongoing al Qaeda plot to detonate a nuclear weapon in the continental United States, and we had just taken into custody an al Qaeda militant who was in a position to know where and when the attack was to occur but who was refusing to cooperate, are you saying we would need to let thousands of Americans die rather than harm a hair on the terrorist’s head in an effort to extract the information that might save them?

  12. 12
    Dennis - SGMM says:

    Will we ever know how many resources have been wasted following the "leads" obtained by torture? How many innocents were blown to bits because someone pointed to some spot on the map just to make it stop? Bushco tortures people because they can. They are just as oblivious of the consequences of torture as they were of the consequences of invading Iraq before the war in Afghanistan was won. Bush is the "CEO President" and, like the rest of the CEO’s whose recklessness and lack of principles have driven the nation into this mess, he’s completely incapable of seeing beyond the next quarter.

  13. 13
    raft says:

    el cid, magnificent post. magnificent and infuriating and galvanizing.

    masturbating in the dark to episodes of 24 is not enough for these people. S&M bondage clubs are not good enough. the only way they can satisfy their fetish is to actually have America turned into a terror state.

  14. 14
    Philly Gal says:

    As someone who has followed closely the human rights situation in Israel for twenty years, including the treatment of prisoners and terrorist suspects, you cannot possibly be serious about Israeli interrogators treating their captives with respect. On what do you base your observation?

  15. 15

    @Dennis – SGMM: No, and this is probably a good thing or we’d feel compelled to crush a lot of mental midgets’ testicles.

  16. 16
    Brian J says:

    @ raft:

    It seems like the same sort of argument is used when arguing against gun control. I’m not entirely sure where I come down on the gun control argument. I’m interested in new ways to try to keep guns out of the wrong hands, but I do worry about infringement on the rights of citizens that haven’t done anything wrong. I’m just not sure how to bridge the gap, and I haven’t been keeping up with the debate. That said, if I hear one more person say that 9/11 could have been avoided if the people on the plane had guns, I’m going to lose it.

    But yeah, the fantasy land scenarios used by those on the right to defend this stuff is just insane. It’d be one thing if there was, you know, some sort of body of evidence to support their position. But there isn’t.

  17. 17
    J.D. Rhoades says:

    Abu Ghraib, waterboarding, and "extraordinary rendition" have nothing to do with gathering intelligence or stopping terrorists. They are expressions of rage, pure and simple. A lot of Americans want Arabs–any Arabs–or any dark-skinned people if Arabs aren’t available, degraded and humiliated as revenge for the humiliation of 9/11. That’s why right wingers cling so bitterly and tenaciously to the idea that these abuses aren’t torture and that what happened at Abu Ghraib "wasn’t that bad." You’re trying to deny them their "revenge". They’re like children who’ve been slapped, so they go torment the cat and they’ll get angry if you deny them their emotional release.

  18. 18
    Delia says:

    They wanted to torture because they wanted to be torturers.

    This about sums up the whole argument.

    The ticking time bomb scenario got boring the second or third time the existence of Los Angeles was threatened by terrorists on 24. An implausible fantasy thriller with a superhero protagonist is the only place that rationalization ever worked. And it jumped the shark a couple of seasons ago.

  19. 19

    Former Interrogator Still Tormented by Recollections of Practices Used in Iraq…

    by Damozel | "Matthew Alexander"—writing under a nom de guerre for security reasons—led the team of interrogators hunted down the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) and authored a book called "How to Break a Terrorist." (WaPo) De…

  20. 20
    KG says:

    @ 17: shouldn’t be all that surprising, people have confused justice with retribution/revenge for about 6,000 years or so.

  21. 21
    KG says:

    @ 18: I had that conversation with a friend in law school, he went from being very liberal to quite conservative during that period (having Hewitt as a con law professor probably didn’t help him much), while I managed to maintain my libertarian sensibilities. He asked me if I would let a nuclear bomb go off in a city instead of torturing someone to get the information. My response was somewhere along the lines of, "first, you evacuate the city; second, if you torture, you’ve dropped to their level and we’re better than that." He seemed surprised that I would rather have people die than let the government have the power to torture.

  22. 22
    bago says:

    If you want to travel on "the dark side", you need to be willing to put your balls on the line. Jury nullification exists for a reason.

  23. 23
    wilfred says:

    You’re doing a bang-up job, Tim. Thank you.

    Now maybe someone could talk some sense into Cole and have him turn down advertisements for Robert Spencer’s Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, an opus that no doubt heads Andrew McCarthy’s Christmas list and which runs parallel to Tim’s story.

    Creeps like Spencer feed the hysteria that rationalizes torturing Muslims.

  24. 24
    Mnemosyne says:

    THEN would you torture? Huh? Wouldya? Wouldya, Members of Congress?

    As a couple of other people have alluded to, the situation isn’t even that they think that terrorist should be tortured to get the information and they’re willing to pay the penalty if they do it. The issue is that they think they should be allowed to break the law with no consequences if they happen to think it’s important enough.

    It’s a pretty consistent belief across the spectrum of right-wingers, at least. "Pro-life" pharmacists want to be allowed to deny women medication without penalty. People working against gay marriage think they should be allowed to tell bald-faced lies to the electorate without penalty. Etc. And boy do they get mad when they realize that you’re going to treat them like everyone else and not the special snowflakes they just know they are.

  25. 25
    passerby says:

    Andrew McCarthy:

    "Torture is already against the law. It is, moreover, the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain — which is to say, much of the prisoner abuse that has prompted the current controversy has not been torture at all. Unpleasant? Yes. Sometimes sadistic and inexplicable? Undoubtedly. But not torture. And where it has been either torture or unjustifiable cruelty, it is being investigated, prosecuted, and severely punished."

    What a crock.

    Is shmuck the best word for this guy?

    His thinking is so twisted. To me, the tragedy isn’t that he has lost his Humanity, but that he’s not aware that he has lost his Humanity.

    I just don’t get this kind of thinking.

  26. 26
    TenguPhule says:

    I’m sure I’ll get a lot of crap for saying this, but there would be an arguable case for torture if it yielded any sort of results.

    No there wouldn’t be.

    Now get in queue for your place on the wall.

  27. 27
    TenguPhule says:

    They have made me a countryman of a country that is now a torturing one.

    This can’t be empathasized enough.

    And that is why we need the Death Penalty.

    The McCarthy’s of the world are too stupid to be allowed to roam free and too dangerous to humanity to be allowed to live.

  28. 28
    TenguPhule says:

    Is shmuck the best word for this guy?

    Wormridden dirteater seems a better fit.

  29. 29
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    When I picture a schmuck like [Andrew McCarthy turning on the laptop after an hour in a dark room ‘reviewing’ photos from abu Ghraib] Patterico running one of his inane "hypotheticals," and then reading this, the liberal in me feels something like sympathy.

    Fixt. In anticipation of his next nonsensical post.

    Edit: brackets mean strikeout. What the hey happened to the strikeout key?

  30. 30
    cain says:

    @KG:

    He asked me if I would let a nuclear bomb go off in a city instead of torturing someone to get the information. My response was somewhere along the lines of, "first, you evacuate the city; second, if you torture, you’ve dropped to their level and we’re better than that." He seemed surprised that I would rather have people die than let the government have the power to torture.

    You might also argue, how do you know the information you get is truthful? Torture will elicit a response sure, but you have no idea how to verify that it is true. If you’re on the clock, and it comes down to that scenario, you’re already fucked.

    Torture will not in general get you very far. That too, if news leaks that you have been torturing, allies will have a hard time cooperating with you. Unless of course, you’re Australia who seem to love to send their citizen to a foreign country to probably get tortured. (Not forgiving Howard for doing that, the fucking ass)

    cain

  31. 31
    Dave_No_Longer_Laughing says:

    I’m interested in new ways to try to keep guns out of the wrong hands,

    Keeping the perps in jail?

    but I do worry about infringement on the rights of citizens that haven’t done anything wrong.

    Leaving them alone?

    On-topic: it will be interesting to see these folks at Gitmo tried in public.

  32. 32
    DBrown says:

    @wilfred: Sorry but that dumb ass spending money on this site is too good to miss. Like anyone here would buy that shit? Please wing nuts spend your money supporting this site – please!

    Aside: the issue of needing the right to torture in order to save a city from an atomic attack is a fart in the wind issue. Last I checked, anyone being charged with a major crime has a right to have a jury trial. By supreme court ruling, juries do not and never will need to follow the law in giving a verdict; hence, if anyone did torture and got information that saved a city from an attack (nuke or not), no American jury would ever convict said ‘criminal’ – period, end of issue.

    This whole argument about the need for such a law is total bullshit since we permit the defendant to have a jury trial if they so please and so, who cares about the need for such a law to protect anyone? This is the worst straw man argument ever fostered on the American people.

  33. 33

    […] Well, waddaya know: turns out that torture isn’t the be-all and end-all of intelligence-gathering that the rabid wingnuts think it is. Via Balloon Juice: […]

  34. 34
    Edmund Dantes says:

    The ticking time bomb also doesn’t make a lot of sense either.

    Let’s say I’m a militant that wants to harm the U.S. physically, emotionally, etc. I’m part of a crew that has somehow obtained an Atom bomb and started it ticking. Now my whole goal in life is to get that bomb to go off.

    Somehow I get nabbed. The bomb is going to go off in say 10 hours or so you think. You start torturing me to get me to tell you where it is. All I have to do is waste your time for ten hours or less (maybe I lie to you about how long you have before it goes off), and I get to die a martyr for my religious beliefs. Religious beliefs, just like Christianity, that see suffering at the hands of your "enemies" as being one of the holier things you can do. What’s my incentive to tell you where the bomb is? I’m probably going to die at your hands anyways. Why not take a couple hundred thousand infidels with me to glorify my name at the gates of heaven?

  35. 35
    Matthew Hooper says:

    If you’ve got ten minutes to torture a guy to find out where the nuclear bomb is… well, for starters, you’ve watched way to much 24.

    But more to the point, you’ve already failed. The terrorists have already A) Acquired a nuclear bomb, B) figured out how to sneak a nuclear bomb into the country, and C) gotten people into the country who know how and where to set it off.

    The government should spend much, much more time figuring out how to deal with A,B, and C instead of wet dreams about pulling out terrorist’s fingernails with pliers.

    In other words, the correct answer to the question of "would you torture a terrorist to keep the bomb from going off?" is mu – the question is wrong. You don’t ask what you do in that circumstance. You keep those circumstances from ever occurring in the first place.

  36. 36
    El Cid says:

    Look, can’t we just make some right wing anti-Disneyland where right wingers can go to ‘torture’ role players who will scream in agony and promise to confess, and then in another room they can dress up as generals and colonels and admirals and order bombing runs on wedding parties which they can watch ‘live’ via simulated bomb-cams, and another section where they can instantly tap into a range of simulated ‘terrorists’ and just plain non-patriot-enough Americans’ phones and e-mails?

  37. 37
    Nerf says:

    I think that in a "24" scenario and there is a ticking time-bomb and someone feels the need to torture to get the info, that’s fine, as long as they then have the balls to stand up in court and plead their case that what was done was necessary and provided the correct information that saved the day. Since that doesn’t happen and the torturers hide in the dark, it is a dirty, evil secret. I don’t feel that torture is warranted in any situation, but if someone is going to do it, then they need to do it knowing they will be held accountable by society for what they have done.

  38. 38
    sparky says:

    @El Cid: that would be Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. apparently we have some kind of work program for non-nationals there, where we pay their airfare to be there and then when we’re done with them we even fly them home.

  39. 39
    Zifnab says:

    @Matthew Hooper:

    But more to the point, you’ve already failed. The terrorists have already A) Acquired a nuclear bomb, B) figured out how to sneak a nuclear bomb into the country, and C) gotten people into the country who know how and where to set it off.

    And I, for one, blame the Democrats!

    I think one more reason wingers have embraces torture as a methodology goes back to their Coulter-esque mindset. Why torture people? Because it’ll piss off all those liberals! Haha!

    Iraq was an attempt to show America that we really, really, really could have won Vietnam if we’d just done it the RIGHT way. If only Jane Fonda hadn’t visited Hanoi and John Kerry hadn’t stabbed us in the back before a Congressional committee, we really could have won.

    The last eight years have been nothing if not a constant campaign to overturn every single policy on the books that might be considered "liberal". Anti-torture policies just happened to fall under that heading.

  40. 40
    jeffro says:

    @Brian J:

    I don’t know why you’d catch crap for this comment. Seems like you’ve got a pretty good handle on the reality of torture.

  41. 41
    libarbarian says:

    What if there was a ticking bomb hidden in a politicians ass and torture was the only way to know which ass held the bomb?

    Checkmate!

  42. 42
    Zifnab says:

    @libarbarian:

    What if there was a ticking bomb hidden in a politicians ass and torture was the only way to know which ass held the bomb?

    Wasn’t that a South Park episode?

  43. 43
    Cain says:

    Wasn’t that a South Park episode?

    Yep.. involving Hillary Clinton! It’s a classic. Cartman strikes again.

    cain

  44. 44
    Tsulagi says:

    That interrogator who gathered the intel to take out Zarqawi said his team didn’t employ torture…

    because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn’t work.

    Obviously he doesn’t see the big picture. Those two qualities, lame-dick stupidity and incompetence, are like a beacon blaring GPS coordinates for our retard-seeking superglue missiles in the Party of Bush and its Malkinette cheerleaders.

  45. 45
    libarbarian says:

    Yep.. involving Hillary Clinton! It’s a classic. Cartman strikes again.

    Actually, Hillary had a nuke hidden in her vag.

    The ass in an entirely different concept unrelated to anything I saw on TV ;).

  46. 46
    liberal says:

    @Matthew Hooper:

    But more to the point, you’ve already failed. The terrorists have already A) Acquired a nuclear bomb, B) figured out how to sneak a nuclear bomb into the country, and C) gotten people into the country who know how and where to set it off.

    A isn’t so bad, since it’s probably not that easy for them to buy one, and pretty much impossible for them to develop one on their own. (Well, at least with current tech.) B and C are more or less hopeless, IMHO.

    The government should spend much, much more time figuring out how to deal with A,B, and C instead of wet dreams about pulling out terrorist’s fingernails with pliers.

    Nah. The solution is pretty simple—change our foreign policy so we no longer piss people off. In which case, no one will have any motive to do it.

  47. 47
    bago says:

    But that’s just wavin’ the white flag of surrender.

  48. 48
    DBrown says:

    You guys just take all the fun out of being a repub-a-thug with your facts and reality.

  49. 49

    What really strikes me about the pairing is that Andrew McCarthy is thinking tactically — what information can we gain with torture in the immediate future to win short-term victory.

    Our military interrogator is thinking strategically — who are these terrorists, what makes them tick, what would make them stop doing it. McCarthy is thinking thwarting one attack or finding one EID. The strategic approach is what will win a war.

  50. 50
    amocz says:

    @libarbarian:

    Actually, Hillary had a nuke hidden in her vag snatch.

    That was episode 11-04, entitled The Snuke.

  51. 51

    […] see: the still anonymous interrogator who found abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Sherwood Moran, a Marine interrogator who ‘broke’ […]

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] see: the still anonymous interrogator who found abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Sherwood Moran, a Marine interrogator who ‘broke’ […]

  2. […] Well, waddaya know: turns out that torture isn’t the be-all and end-all of intelligence-gathering that the rabid wingnuts think it is. Via Balloon Juice: […]

  3. Former Interrogator Still Tormented by Recollections of Practices Used in Iraq…

    by Damozel | "Matthew Alexander"—writing under a nom de guerre for security reasons—led the team of interrogators hunted down the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) and authored a book called "How to Break a Terrorist." (WaPo) De…

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