March 28

The claimed effectiveness of torture to obtain intelligence is shown to be a fabricated lie

Katherine Eban, in her extraordinary report Rorscharch and Awe in Vanity Fair (2007), unmasked the fabricated lie crediting torture as the key to successful interrogations. In fact, it was the F.B.I.’s humane treatment and rapport-building techniques that prompted of Abu Zubaydah to divulge actionable information. But this success story evaporated when CIA’s interrogation team arrived with their modus operandi; “to conduct a psychic demolition…by severing his sense of personality and scaring him almost to death.” After the torture began, Zubaydah revealed no further intelligence information.  Ultimately, the F.B.I. pulled its agents from the scene and ruled that they could not be present any time coercive tactics were used. This decision effectively gave the C.I.A. complete control of interrogations.

From its first application in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the use of torture in interrogations was shown to be counterproductive in eliciting intelligence information. Yet, the C.I.A. went on to claim credit for breaking Zubaydah and obtaining vital information.

“Just months after Zubaydah’s interrogation, the myth of Mitchell and Jessen’s success in breaking him had made its way from Thailand to Guantánamo to Washington, and the reversed SERE tactics had become associated with recognition and inside knowledge…Mitchell and Jessen [  ] offered a patina of pseudo-science that made the CIA and military officials think that these psychologists were experts in unlocking the human mind…Word soon spread that Mitchell and Jessen had been awarded a medal by the C.I.A. for their advanced interrogation techniques”

“In the real world [  ] it is increasingly clear that the U.S. has sacrificed its global image for tactics that are at best ineffective…The bitterest irony is that the tactics seem to have been adopted by interrogators throughout the U.S. military in part because of a myth that whipped across continents and jumped from the intelligence to the military communities: the false impression that reverse-engineered sere tactics were the only thing that got Abu Zubaydah to talk.” (Rorscharch and Awe, 2007)

“In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida – chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates – was obtained before waterboarding was introduced. He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.”
(Finn and Warrick. Detainee’s Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots, The Washington Post, 2009)

Ali Soufan told Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, “We were able to get the information about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a couple of days. We didn’t have to do any of this [torture]. We could have done this the right way.” (Newsweek, 2009)

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