Over the weekend, Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator who is credited with helping acquire most of the useful intelligence from Abu Zubayda prior to his being waterboarded, responded to torture apologists who argue that torture was necessary to save American lives. Soufan points out that torture as policy locked out those interrogators who had the most expertise about Al Qaeda as an organization (the CIA didn't have an interrogation program until after 9/11), and as a result of torture, we may have failed to get as much useful information as we could have:
Mr. Mohammed knew the location of most, if not all, of the members of Al Qaeda’s leadership council, and possibly of every covert cell around the world. One can only imagine who else we could have captured, or what attacks we might have disrupted, if Mr. Mohammed had been questioned by the experts who knew the most about him.
A lack of knowledge perhaps explains why so many false claims have been made about the program’s alleged successes. Many officials in Washington reading the reports didn’t know enough about Al Qaeda to know what information was already known and whether the detainees were telling all they knew. The inspector general’s report states that many operatives thought their superiors were inaccurately judging that detainees were withholding information. Such assessments, the operatives said, were “not always supported by an objective evaluation” but were “too heavily based, instead, on presumptions.” I can personally testify to this.
Soufan, an experienced interrogator with far more experience in dealing with terrorist suspects than Stephen Hayes, Marc Thiessen, Andy McCarthy or any of the other prominent torture supporters in the conservative press argues, persuasively that not only did torture not work, but that it may have prevented us from getting vital information about Al Qaeda.
Meanwhile, the professionals in the field are relieved that an ineffective, unreliable, unnecessary and destructive program — one that may have given Al Qaeda a second wind and damaged our country’s reputation — is finished.
We're not seeing too many "professionals" argue the case for torture--instead we see those who believe fighting terrorists is about some kind of contest of will between Islam and the West romanticizing criminal behavior as "necessary" because, for some reason, they think protecting American society requires that take our cues from those we're fighting.
One more thing: I've already pointed out that torture supporters are basically relying on the gap between public and classified knowledge to make the case for torture--much the same way as Iraq war supporters did to make the case for war there. We know how that turned out. People like Marc Thiessen and Stephen Hayes, who are now defending torture based on dodgy evidence, were explicitly involved in attempting to link Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda and 9/11. Lindsay Beyerstein pointed out in an email the other day that this was its own kind of 9/11 "trutherism", one that was far more widespread and ultimately damaging to the country than the tinfoil hattery of building 7 types. It ought to be taken into account when evaluating their claims.
-- A. Serwer