Abdulmutallab Interrogation Explodes Six Central Torture Myths.

Yesterday, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate that the alleged underwear bomber, Umar Abdulmutallab was talking to intelligence and law enforcement authorities.

“It is a continuum in which over a period of time, we have been successful in obtaining intelligence, not just on day one, but on day two, day three, day four, and day five, down the road," Mueller said. Charlie Savage and Scott Shane at the New York Times subsequently reported that Abdulmutallab's cooperation had been secured in part by the influence of his family, who had been flown in:

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a jetliner bound for Detroit on Dec. 25, started talking to investigators after two of his family members arrived in the United States and helped earn his cooperation, a senior administration official said Tuesday evening.

The recent news about the interrogation of Abdulmutallab destroys several pro-torture, anti-due process myths that I'll list here:

Mirandizing a suspect prevents intelligence from being collected. Clearly not the case, as Abdulmutallab has continued talking to investigators after being mirandized. Interrogating someone without mirandizing them means that you can't use that information in court, though it's still usable as intelligence.

The FBI stopped interrogating Abdulmutallab so they could mirandize him. No. As the LA Times reported, the FBI decided to read Abdulmutallab his rights after he stopped talking.

Putting an "enemy combatant" like Abdulmutallab in the criminal justice system is unprecedented.
False, as the Bush administration did it with nearly 150 terrorists convicted in civilian courts over eight years. Most recently, Bush-era CIA Chief Michael Hayden wrote an op-ed criticizing the decision to put Abdulmutallab in the criminal justice system, even though it was standard practice under Bush. A recent example is Bryant Vinas, an al-Qaeda recruit captured in Pakistan in 2008, who as part of a plea deal has reportedly provided a "goldmine" of intelligence. Hayden was CIA chief at the the time and said nothing, because the practice was uncontroversial.

We would have gotten all this information more quickly if we had just tortured him. Unlikely, and there would have been substantial downsides. Part of interrogating a suspect is verifying that information is true, and that takes time whether someone is being tortured or not. But if we had tortured Abdulmutallab, it's unlikely that his family would have played such a key role in his interrogation. Also, the information he gave wouldn't have been as reliable. Treating him humanely shows the world that it can trust the United States and encourages Muslims who may have important information to come forward.

The only way to get terrorists to talk is by torturing them, because of their religion. This myth is a staple of torture stalwarts on the right. Cliff May and former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen have argued that suspected terrorists are compelled by their religious beliefs not to talk unless they "reached the limit of their ability to endure the hardships the infidel is inflicting on them," in May's words. Thiessen responded gleefully to a poll suggesting most Americans wanted Abdulmutallab to be waterboarded. Something tells me that despite the fact that Abdulmutallab is talking, Thiessen is probably disappointed he wasn't tortured first.

The FBI isn't good at interrogating suspected terrorists. The events of the past few days have again proved this to be false. As former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke told ABC, "The FBI is good at getting people to talk. ... They have been much more successful than the previous attempts of torturing people and trying to convince them to give information that way. The FBI does it right.”

Facts are ultimately irrelevant to the pro-torture right. They're concerned with approaches that levy extrajudicial punishment on Muslims suspected of terrorism, not with sound national security policies. The point is to make "those people" pay for what they've done; because Muslims are collectively responsible, actual guilt and innocence are beside the point.

When it comes to the Obama administration, I'm going to pretend for a second I don't disagree with many of their national security policies to give them some advice as to how they should respond to Republican criticisms: "We're doing exactly what the previous administration used to do. Only we're doing it better."

-- A. Serwer

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