Andrew Sullivan has posted a review of “Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency” by Charles Savage. It looks like an essential, if blood-pressure-raising, read.
One thing I’d forgotten, of course, is one central case in which torture did give us actionable intelligence:
“Al Qaeda continues to have a deep interest in acquiring weapons of mass destruction… I can trace the story of a sernior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained and he has told his story.”
The man who spoke those words was Colin Powell at the UN. The “operative”, we now know, was Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libbi. He was waterboarded and given Bush-approved hypothermia treatment, i.e. frozen till he could take it no longer. It was only then that he told of al Qaeda’s links with Saddam’s WMDs. Guess what? Libbi subsequently retracted his confession. According to ABC News, the CIA subsequently found al-Libbi “had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.” So I now realize that part of the reason I believed the WMD case for war against Saddam was because the Bush administration had been secretly torturing suspects and got false confessions. The biggest intelligence failure in recent US history – the WMD case in Iraq – was partly created by the torture policy.
Of course this will not convince those who respond reflexively to the term “waterboard” by comparing it to student hazing, or argue that it can’t be torture if it was used in SERE training. ((Sully cites the Chief of Training at SERE, who wrote: “SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE schoolâ€™s interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques used by the US army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What was not mentioned in most articles was that SERE was designed to show how an evil totalitarian, enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique.“)) Such people are utterly beyond the reach of reason.