THE average man, caught naked at high noon on the courthouse square, save for his fedora, will use it to cover his genitals and beat a rapid retreat. It will probably not occur to him, later that same afternoon, to pen a 900-word panegyric to his hat size.
Nor to the Washington Post to print it.
In releasing highly classified documents on the CIA interrogation program last week, President Obama declared that the techniques used to question captured terrorists "did not make us safer." This is patently false. The proof is in the memos Obama made public -- in sections that have gone virtually unreported in the media.
Y'know, I was wondering about this myself. How is it that previously unreported details highlighting the wanton brutality and callous disregard for standards of decency and the laws of the United States in but two cases of the Bush administration's Extraordinarily Doubly-Constitutional Rendition Program get all the headlines, while the accompanying proof that the administration did not simply make up the name of the Library Tower before the former President mangled it is completely ignored? Damn Librul Media.
Consider the Justice Department memo of May 30, 2005. It notes that "the CIA believes 'the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001.' . . . In particular, the CIA believes that it would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques." The memo continues: "Before the CIA used enhanced techniques . . . KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, 'Soon you will find out.' " Once the techniques were applied, "interrogations have led to specific, actionable intelligence, as well as a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates."
Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques "led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the 'Second Wave,' 'to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into' a building in Los Angeles." KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. The memo explains that "information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemmah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the 'Second Wave.' " In other words, without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.
So, now you guys like CIA intel again?
It's interesting to stop occasionally, take a few deep cleansing breaths, and consider how fucking remarkable this sort of thing would be if it weren't so wearyingly commonplace. The last word the public had about what was done in its name is that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed sang like a slightly moist canary after 35 seconds. Now it's 183 times, plus 35 seconds. In a month. And the Bush administration-in-exile says, "Bu...bu...but...The Library Tower! Still standing!"
We don't mean to be rude about it, but just for starters, the people who said "Okay, you've covered your ass" in response to a memo entitled, uh, "Bin-Laden Determined To Get Your Ass" might not be the first option when it comes to analyzing intel. Particularly now, when their asses have just been uncovered yet again.
Second--and we don't want to distract from all the other amazing evidence of the amazing efficaciousness of torturing captives just for shits and giggles--but the Library Tower thing has pretty much been disreputable since the day Bush called it by the wrong name, and saying "The CIA says it believed it" now doesn't change much. After 9/11, even the Bush administration had pretty much figured out that terrorists had commandeered commercial aircraft and flown them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Assuming for a moment that this soggy Library Tower intel was 1) genuine; 2) obtained by torture; and 2a) unobtainable by any other means; and 3) was somehow still timely eighteen months after 9/11, and one month and 183 trips down the CIA's waterslide after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's capture--by the Pakistanis, by the way, despite all of Abu Zubaydah's gurgled admissions to us--we are still left with a question--wait, I'm sure I wrote it down somewhere--oh, yeah: So what? Are we supposed to believe we hadn't prepared for any more attacks until The Sheikh coughed this up? Not on the largest building on the West Coast, defended, just to choose one, by the California Air National Guard's 144th Fighter Wing and its phalanx of Mach 1.2-at-low-altitude F-16 Fighting Falcons? Any single one of which--I hope I'm not revealing classified information here--is generally considered superior in firepower to a standard 747? We had to know the specific target in order to respond to a commercial airline hijacked across the Pacific over a year-and-a-half after 9/11? Sure we did. Oh, what's that Khalid? You're still thirsty? After all you had to drink just 4.06 hours ago?
And look: that's the best fucking case scenario. Even after crossing that chasm in several leaps we're left with the requirement of 1) blind faith assumption that this averted a real attack, and one which was still going to be carried out after its Mastermind had fallen into US hands; and 2) believing anything anyone connected with the Bush administration says. And swallowing those whales still leaves us right back at the beginning of the argument: was torture of any sort, let alone the 183 times a month, Tomás de Torquemada barely-sublimated sexual-thrill sort we substituted for anything approaching justified use of extreme techniques, really efficacious, or not? This is, again, the product of the American Right talking to itself for the last thirty years; it seems to imagine that restating its objections somehow advances the argument, as though the rest of the world was its profoundly deaf grandmother.
On the other side, of course, we have the fresh--if unfairly focused on to the exclusion of how Bush administration tactics Kept Us Safe, Except that One Time--evidence that the whole torture business was an outright sham, that the Ticking Time Bomb wasn't actually hooked up to a clock, and that it didn't fucking work. You "waterboarded" one man 83 times in a month, another one-hundred times more in the same time period. At what point do you think they figured out they weren't actually going to be drowned, that this was just part of the torture program? After six, twenty-six, sixty-seven? At what point would they have stopped caring, or looked to tell you anything you wanted to hear?
Speaking of which, ain't Anything We Wanted To Hear what we got? A neatly-wrapped confirmation of the fear-mongering scenarios the Bush administration fed on for five years or so? Big buildings, jetliners, scary brown fanatics, plans for continual attacks until everything over two stories was rubble? It was fucking bosh then. You may remember (say AndrewSullivanAndrewSullivanAndrewSullivan while clicking your heels together three times) that anyone trying to understand the attacks of 9/11 was objectively pro-terrorist? Never mind that the targets of 9/11 were symbolic; it was a Declaration of War on America Herself, bent on our total destruction. Never mind that such was clearly outside the capabilities of the Islamofascists, or outside terrorism's purlieu; kindly shit your pants like a patriotic American should. Big Buildings! Crashing Down! Everything's Changed! Vote GOP!
And never mind that, if you're an international terrorist Mastermind, you might just wait for the next earthquake to bring down LA, and save on the trained manpower. Or that once you saw the sort of Head Meets Sand, Let's Bomb The Globe response 9/11 got, you'd just sit back and wait to see what sort of zaniness the Bush administration would get up to next.
But oh, by all means, let's read the fine print:
Yet there is more information confirming the program's effectiveness. The Office of Legal Counsel memo states "we discuss only a small fraction of the important intelligence CIA interrogators have obtained from KSM" and notes that "intelligence derived from CIA detainees has resulted in more than 6,000 intelligence reports and, in 2004, accounted for approximately half of the [Counterterrorism Center's] reporting on al Qaeda." The memos refer to other classified documents -- including an "Effectiveness Memo" and an "IG Report," which explain how "the use of enhanced techniques in the interrogations of KSM, Zubaydah and others . . . has yielded critical information." Why didn't Obama officials release this information as well? Because they know that if the public could see the details of the techniques side by side with evidence that the program saved American lives, the vast majority would support continuing it.
Critics claim that enhanced techniques do not produce good intelligence because people will say anything to get the techniques to stop. But the memos note that, "as Abu Zubaydah himself explained with respect to enhanced techniques, 'brothers who are captured and interrogated are permitted by Allah to provide information when they believe they have reached the limit of their ability to withhold it in the face of psychological and physical hardship." In other words, the terrorists are called by their faith to resist as far as they can -- and once they have done so, they are free to tell everything they know. This is because of their belief that "Islam will ultimately dominate the world and that this victory is inevitable." The job of the interrogator is to safely help the terrorist do his duty to Allah, so he then feels liberated to speak freely.
Okay, now, leaving aside the Amazing Proof! that the Office of Legal Counsel, aka the Fucking Long-Distance Small-Animal Abuser John Yoo, wrote a memo detailing how many reports were generated by just a few hundred instances of simu-drowning, it's certainly nice to relive the days of Shit Your Pants, America, Part II: crazy Muslims believe all sorts of crazy shit and want to kill Jesus! Just promise 'em 73 virgins or something, and they'll squeal. After a suitable, slightly damp interval.
Oh, we're done with you, Mr. Thiessen. We were done with you a long time ago, as was that America you still imagine you can lecture. In the meantime here's some more fine print for you to examine, courtesy yesterday's Times story:
The Times article, based on information from former intelligence officers who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abu Zubaydah had revealed a great deal of information before harsh methods were used and after his captors stripped him of clothes, kept him in a cold cell and kept him awake at night. The article said interrogators at the secret prison in Thailand believed he had given up all the information he had, but officials at headquarters ordered them to use waterboarding.
He revealed no new information after being waterboarded, the article said, a conclusion that appears to be supported by a footnote to a 2005 Justice Department memo saying the use of the harshest methods appeared to have been “unnecessary” in his case.
Let us know when you're ready to restate your previously discredited positions again, Mr. Thiessen. We're sure they'll have a similar impact. On that day's Post op-ed layout.