2009/04/20

DNI McConnell's credibility

Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell claimed a little over a year ago that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being uncooperative:

DIRECTOR McCONNELL: Let’s take it from the beginning. Has waterboarding ever been used by a professional organization whose mission is to extract information? The answer is yes. You might ask what are the circumstances? Three times. Situations where there’s been interrogation over a period of time. It was unsuccessful. Water boarding was used and then information started to flow.

This testimony, the "only three times" claim was produced many times by conservatives seeking to minimize US culpability.

But now we have access to the 2004 CIA Inspector General's report. In it, the CIA IG John Helgerson details that actually, KSM was waterboarded a total of 183 times and another suspect, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times.

Indeed, before the CIA used enhanced techniques in its interrogations of KSM, KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, "Soon, you will know." Id. We understand that the use of enhanced techniques in the interrogation of KSM, Zubaydah, and others, by contrast, has yielded critical information. See IG Report at 86, 90-91 (describing increase in intelligence reports attributable to use of enhanced techniques). (emphases added)

As the blogger Marcy Wheeler points out, Steven Bradbury (Who wrote two of the "Torture memos" released by the Obama Administration on 16 April) is conflating effective interrogation with the sheer number of reports. Waterboarding KSM and Zubaydah produced lots and lots of reports, but it's far from clear that it produced any useful intel. In fact,

By CIA's own admission, they used waterboarding with Abu Zubaydah at a time when he was already completely compliant with interrogators.

And as was pointed out in 2007,

....Under this duress, Zubaydah told them that shopping malls were targeted by al Qaeda....Zubaydah said banks — yes, banks — were a priority....And also supermarkets — al Qaeda was planning to blow up crowded supermarkets, several at one time. People would stop shopping. The nation's economy would be crippled. And the water system — a target, too. Nuclear plants, naturally. And apartment buildings.
Thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each flavor of target. Of course, if you multiplied by ten, there still wouldn't be enough public servants in America to surround and secure the supermarkets. Or the banks. But they tried.

So, it's hardly the case that "breaking people" will produce useful, actionable intel. In Zubaydah's case, we saw just the opposite, we saw wild goose chases where law enforcement personnel were kept busy chasing all sorts of improbable leads.

In other words, no, waterboarding (Controlled drowning) is NOT an effective method for getting uncooperative suspects to talk. What it produces is garbage.
Unfortunately, although the Obama Administration deserves great credit for doing as much as they have, they don't appear inclined to punish the torturers. Here's a petition folks can sign to encourage them to do so.

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