For the past few months, we've seen the worst of the conservative movement come out in defense of the torture of Abu Zubayda. In 2002, George W. Bush described Zubayda as "al-Qaeda's chief of operations." Jane Mayer's reporting in The Dark Side disproved both this and the argument that subsequent intelligence gained from Zubayda was gained through torture. FBI Interrogator Ali Soufan's account of Zubayda's interrogation (of which--unlike John Kiriakou, he had first hand knowledge) confirms Mayer's reporting: The intelligence Zubayda provided that led to breakthroughs was given under non-coercive interrogation. Earlier this year, Marc Thiessen repeated the false Bush administration version of Zubayda's story--before defending his torture as "necessary" because of assumptions about Zubayda's religious beliefs, an explanation Cliff May repeated.
The Washington Post's report on documents recently released by the CIA in relation to a lawsuit from the ACLU merely confirms what we already knew: Zubayda was not the al-Qaeda "leader" the Bush administration thought he was, a wrongheaded conclusion that led to the entire legal rationale behind the Bush torture policy. The purpose of the Jay Bybee memo written in August 2002 was to justify the torture of Zubayda--which we now know did absolutely nothing to make the country safer and was premised on a number of erroneous conclusions: Zubayda was a mere fixer, not a high-ranking terrorist, and he wasn't withholding important information because he was hardened through terrorist training but because he didn't have anything else to say.
That's not to say that had Zubayda been al-Qaeda's No. 3 as advertised, torture would have been justified or useful. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who masterminded the September 11 attacks, was also tortured--which apparently led to him providing reams of false intelligence just to get interrogators to stop.
-- A. Serwer