Did Waterboarding Work on KSM?

Over the weekend, the Washington Post, citing anonymous "officials" wrote that Khalid Sheik Mohammed went all Frank Lucas on Al Qaeda after being waterboarded, freely providing intelligence information. Naturally, torture apologists everywhere are ecstatic: KSM is first and foremost, as the suspected architect of 9/11, an unsympathetic figure -- so not only is torturing him "justified" for intelligence reasons, especially if torture "worked," but the right still sees torture as an issue of who is being tortured rather than a matter of law.

At any rate, the Inspector General noted in his report that:

The effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured, however.

If it was as simple as "we waterboarded KSM, and he started talking," there's no reason for the IG to have said otherwise. There are about 24 pages of redacted material following the mention of KSM being waterboarded 183 times, which means that the pro-torture sources quoted in the report are again taking advantage of the gap between publicly known information and classified material to make their case. What is known is that KSM talked after being waterboarded; the report does not claim that he talked because he was waterboarded. These sources are arguing a causal link that can't be verified because of the redacted information, which means reporters have no way of assessing how accurate the claims are. We've seen this pattern before -- it's how we ended up in Iraq.

Despite not coming to a conclusion about the "effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques" the IG did state in his report that:

Officer's are concerned that future public revelation of the CTC Program is inevitable and will seriously damage Agency officers' personal reputations, as well as the reputation and effectiveness of the Agency itself.

Besides the illegality, there are external costs to the use of torture that go beyond whether or not the techniques themselves are individually effective, such as the effect that torture has on the ability to prosecute suspected terrorists, cooperation between domestic agencies, from foreign allies, as well as the willingness of potential sources to cooperate. The documents don't come to a definitive conclusion about the effectiveness of torture against other interrogation methods, but even if they did, there are other problems with using torture that go beyond questions of effectiveness.

-- A. Serwer

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