Saturday, January 30, 2010

The efficiency of waterboarding: then and now

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John Kiriakou during interview
John Kiriakou in 2007

Here’s yet another long proverbial nail in the metaphorical coffin containing the myth that torture is of any use, other than as an outlet for sadists or those who just want an excuse to wreak painful revenge upon their designated enemies. In December of 2007, John Kiriakou, a (former) CIA operative, went on the air in an exclusive interview and went on at length about how torture enhanced interrogative techniques, particularly in the form of waterboarding, worked so well that terrorists could break in less than a minute and start spilling all sorts of crucial, life-saving information. An example he used was that of captured Al-Qaeda commando Abu Zubaydah, who was tortured waterboarded no less than 83 times – in a single month. (In case you can’t tell, that’s an average of roughly 3 times every day.)

Of course, the notions that waterboarding (or any other of the CIA’s thinly disguised torture techniques) worked, or that any lives were saved as a result of any intelligence earned through the usage of these techniques, have been debunked over and over again in recent months. For one thing, it was shown, quite clearly, that torture simply didn’t work at all on Zubaydah, who instead only released valuable information when undergoing traditional, humane and effective interrogation methods, known as the Informed Interrogation Approach, as detailed in this account by FBI Agent Ali Soufan, who was able to get all sorts of life-saving intelligence out of Zubaydah, before the latter was submitted to torture, at which point he never uttered another useful word.

But that didn’t stop Kiriakou from lying about it, of course. The thing is, though, that he’s since gone in defensive mode and has disavowed the very remarks he made – basically showing everyone how he had no idea what he was talking about. The report, below:

Kiriakou, a 15-year veteran of the agency's intelligence analysis and operations directorates, electrified the hand-wringing national debate over torture in December 2007 when he told ABC's Brian Ross and Richard Esposito in a much ballyhooed, exclusive interview that senior al Qaeda commando Abu Zubaydah cracked after only one application of the face cloth and water.

"From that day on, he answered every question," Kiriakou said. "The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."

No matter that Kiriakou wearily said he shared the anguish of millions of Americans, not to mention the rest of the world, over the CIA's application of the medieval confession technique.

The point was that it worked. And the pro-torture camp was quick to pick up on Kiriakou's claim.

"It works, is the bottom line," conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh exclaimed on his radio show the day after Kiriakou's ABC interview. "Thirty to 35 seconds, and it works."

Okay, so he claimed that waterboarding worked so well that the terrorist cracked after barely half a minute, eh? Then, why would they have waterboarded the same man a total of 83 times in a single month? Something just didn’t add up … and now, Kiriakou himself admits it, thus basically revealing how full of shit he is (and/or was):

Had Kiriakou left out something the first time?

Now comes John Kiriakou, again, with a wholly different story. On the next-to-last page of a new memoir, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror (written with Michael Ruby), Kiriakou now rather off handedly admits that he basically made it all up.

"What I told Brian Ross in late 2007 was wrong on a couple counts," he writes. "I suggested that Abu Zubaydah had lasted only thirty or thirty-five seconds during his waterboarding before he begged his interrogators to stop; after that, I said he opened up and gave the agency actionable intelligence."

But never mind, he says now.

"I wasn't there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I'd heard and read inside the agency at the time."

In a word, it was hearsay, water-cooler talk.

"Now we know," Kiriakou goes on, "that Zubaydah was waterboarded eighty-three times in a single month, raising questions about how much useful information he actually supplied."

Indeed. But after his one-paragraph confession, Kiriakou adds that he didn't have any first hand knowledge of anything relating to CIA torture routines, and still doesn't. And he claims that the disinformation he helped spread was a CIA dirty trick: "In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own."

It’s nice of Kiriakou to admit he’d basically recounted what amounted to no more than rumors in an official interview, but unfortunately for him, it doesn’t excuse him for having, well, recounted what amounted to no more than rumors in an official interview. At least now, he’s being honest enough to admit to his dishonesty. I suppose that’s something.

Oh, and torture still doesn’t work. Get that yet, people?

(via Dispatches From the Culture Wars)