No, Torture Didn’t “Work”

It’s not surprising that John Yoo dismisses the Senate’s report and remains convinced that torture got us bin Laden:

The Feinstein report alleges that other sources had already provided the name of the courier independently. But the CIA’s rebuttal — signed by Obama’s appointee Director John Brennan — makes clear this information “was insufficient to distinguish him from many other Bin Laden associates until additional information from detainees put it into context and allowed CIA to better understand his true role and potential in the hunt for Bin Laden.”

The CIA is right. While it may have had the courier’s name, it had hundreds if not thousands of possible Al Qaeda agents in its files. Only the interrogations pinpointed his importance.

Ambinder takes down this sort of argument:

We are told, say, that a prisoner recognized a photograph of an important person that happened to be shown to him after the prisoner was tortured, and that helped the CIA put together a piece of a puzzle. To call THAT a success of the program is to imply that there was no reason to think that the prisoner would have provided the same information at the same time if he had not been tortured, and that the pre-torture rapport built by the interrogators and the captors remained intact. The CIA rebuttal goes out of its way to suggest that there is no way to know that what would have happened. An epistemological question is what one CIA officer put it.

But it should not have to be!

If the program is a success, there should be many examples where a detainee was presented with the same questions before and after “enhanced interrogation” and only provided the valuable, accurate intel after the fact. Here, absence of evidence is evidence of absence, precisely because we can say with near certainty that the detainees provided extremely valuable information before being tortured — information that, had these prisoners been truly trained to resist interrogation, they would not have easily gotten up.

Greenwald objects to the debate over torture’s effectiveness. But Drezner thinks it’s worthwhile:

The “very mushy middle” might have moral qualms about torture, but still think it’s justified in extreme circumstances. It’s possible they’ve come to this conclusion based on “24” and “Zero Dark Thirty” rather than any real policy debate. The point is, these are the people who need to be persuaded that even in extreme circumstances, torture is useless because it doesn’t work at extracting useful information. It is through developing a public consensus on this issue that a norm starts to take effect — and, hopefully, policy practitioners internalize that belief.

Larison seconds Drezner:

Torture is absolutely wrong and absolutely useless, and demonstrating the truth of both statements will make clear how completely bankrupt its defenders’ arguments really are. Proving that torture achieves nothing except the cruel degradation of human beings takes away the only argument its defenders have left. It would obviously be better if no one were willing to offer a defense for something as abhorrent as torture, but we know very well that quite a few people are prepared to do that so long as they can dress up what they’re defending in euphemisms and false claims about its efficacy. The point of insisting on torture’s uselessness is to strip away the remaining falsehoods that its defenders use to conceal the ugly reality of what they are defending.