Dexter Filkins highlights an example – the gross mishandling of “Asset X”, the mysterious figure who eventually led the CIA to KSM:
Asset X was willing to help, for a price, the e-mail said. Then something went wrong. The C.I.A. agent who was meeting Asset X recommended that Asset X be paid a certain amount of money for his help, but the request was denied. Asset X disappeared. … Nine months later, the C.I.A. found Asset X, and he was still willing to help. Then something went wrong again: Asset X’s original C.I.A. handler had been transferred, and his replacement didn’t know Asset X’s real value. The replacement agent wrote several cables to C.I.A. headquarters seeking guidance and got no response. His cables were “disappearing into a ‘black hole’,’’ the agent later recalled.
With nothing to go on, the C.I.A. officer prepared to terminate his relationship with Asset X. While he was explaining his dilemma to a colleague, another C.I.A. officer—this one visiting from out of town—overheard him and explained that Asset X in fact was extremely valuable. Shortly thereafter, with no advance warning and no C.I.A. permission, Asset X travelled to Pakistan and unexpectedly met [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed. Asset X went into a bathroom and sent a text message to his C.I.A. handler: “I M W KSM. Within hours, the C.I.A. and Pakistani intelligence agents stormed the Rawalpindi compound and captured Mohammed.
After which KSM, of course, was tortured over and over again, with “no information provided by [him leading] directly to the capture of a terrorist or the disruption of a terrorist plot.” However, as Judith Levine reminds us, it shouldn’t ultimately matter whether torture “worked” or not:
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” pronounces Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No one. That’s the thing about human rights. Everybody has them—civilian, combatant, citizen, stateless migrant, innocent or criminal. Eichmann had human rights. Osama bin Laden had them. You can’t even waive your human rights. They are inalienable.
To torture is to strip a person not only of rights but of the humanity to which they attach. Dehumanization is torture’s definition, its prerequisite.
Is torture effective? The question is akin to asking if slavery is good economic policy or forced sterilization is an effective means of slowing population growth. Even if torture does work, it is still wrong. And the minute we start considering it as a tool to select to get the job done—like a wrench or a pliers to turn a bolt, a spade or pickax to dig a hole—then we do not only dehumanize those we torture, we cease to be human ourselves.