Marc Thiessen scrambles to defend the torture of Abu Zubayda, repeating the already discredited claims that torture led to Zubayda disclosing valuable intelligence. "The Post also acknowledges that Zubaydah’s “interrogations led directly to the arrest of Jose Padilla” but dismisses Padilla as the man behind a fanciful “dirty bomb” plot and notes that Padilla was never charged in any such plot," Thiessen writes. He also alleges that Zubayda provided the nickname of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, leading to his capture. Thiessen also claims that torturing Zubayda led to the capture of Ramzi bin Al Shibh. Thiessen concludes: 

The Left is desperate to discredit the efficacy of this program, and they have launched a desperate campaign to destroy it. Last week it was the leak of an ICRC document describing some of the techiques allegedly used in the program – one of the most damaging leaks of classified information since the war on terror began because it allows al Qaeda to train against the techniques. And now we have this highly uninformed front-page story in the Washington Post. All of this is incredibly damaging to the security of the United States. And if America is attacked again, those responsible for the disclosure of this information will bear much of the blame.

It's absolutely amazing the Republicans can talk about Obama's "power grabs" out one side of their mouth while later arguing that the government has the right to break the law in secret and that exposing such lawbreaking is condemnable. Whether al-Qaeda can "train against" such techniques is irrelevant, torture is a crime, and the executive orders signed by Obama, not to mention international law, preclude their use. But Thiessen's Nostradamus act simply obscures the facts about what useful information Zubayda actually provided.

As Jane Mayer points out in The Dark Side, Zubayda did give up Padilla and KSM's nickname, "Mukhtar." He did both before being tortured. The 9/11 Commission report also notes that the CIA had already received the information about KSM's nickname but had previously failed to connect the dots. In the case of Ramzi bin Al Shibh, Thiessen omits entirely the key role that an Al Jazeera journalist played in securing his capture: After interviewing bin Al Shibh and KSM in Karachi, the reporter passed on information about their location to his boss, who then passed on the information to the Emir of Qatar, who passed it on to the CIA, which led to bin Al Shibh being apprehended along with other terrorism suspects. The Post story is thefore accurate: torturing Zubayda produced little actionable intelligence, and none of what Thiessen claims. But as I said before, because torture cannot be defended on moral or legal terms, retroactively manufacturing successes is the only recourse.

In the meantime, while conservatives maintain that the United States can only protect itself by torturing terrorism suspects, onetime Republican dream presidential candidate Gen. David Petraeus has let his feelings be known on the subject, and they don't sound anything like those expressed by Thiessen or Dick Cheney.

-- A. Serwer

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