Conservative Media's Celebration Of Torture

››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

Conservative media celebrated the effectiveness of torture in response to news that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee would release its report on the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) detention and interrogation program, attacking the Senate for releasing the report and disputing the report's findings. Military and interrogation experts have emphasized that torture is an ineffective interrogation technique, and human rights groups support the release of the report.

Conservative Media Defend Torture, Attack Senate For Releasing Report

Sean Hannity Defends CIA's Use Of Torture: "I Am Certain That American Lives Were Saved." On the December 8 edition of his radio show, Fox News host Sean Hannity criticized the upcoming release of the Senate's "report on CIA torture," saying that "people are going to die" over the release of the report. Hannity defended the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, and said he is "certain that American lives were saved" through the use of torture. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 12/8/14]

Fox Host Eric Bolling: "I Celebrate What The CIA Did ... I'm In Favor Of Waterboarding Because It Worked." On the December 8 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Eric Bolling celebrated the CIA's interrogation techniques, including waterboarding:

BOLLING: I celebrate what the CIA did in the aftermath of 9-11. 3,000 people lost their lives downtown. We were angry. America was on our heels, we didn't know what to do, and the CIA came forward, and they aggressively interrogated - legally - aggressively interrogated some bad guys. And they got some intel that led to the capture of Osama bin Laden.

Why are we apologizing for it? I'm not really sure. If it's tactics that they don't like in the Obama administration, well fine, that's fine, then go ahead and change it. If we don't like you, then we'll change you next time if we find out we're not as safe as we were under George Bush's presidency. As long as it's legal -- these are bad guys, they have shown that they were terrorists, go after them. Look, I'm on record saying I'm in favor of waterboarding because it worked. You may not like it, you may not like the process, but it made people turn over information that made this country safer. [Fox News, The Five, 12/8/14]

Fox's Steve Hayes: "There Is Abundant Evidence" Showing CIA Techniques Were Effective. On Fox's Special Report, Fox contributor Steve Hayes criticized the media's portrayal of the Senate report as a "torture report." He opposed the report's expected conclusion that the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques were not effective, claiming: "there is abundant evidence that they were." [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 12/8/14]

Former Bush Adviser Karl Rove: Torture Techniques Kept America Safe. On the December 8 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox contributor and former President George W. Bush senior official, Karl Rove and host Bill O'Reilly celebrated torture techniques. O'Reilly championed the "thousands of lives saved by the information [the CIA] got, by waterboarding," and Rove urged viewers to remember that torture techniques "developed useful information, vital information that kept America safe," and helped us kill Osama bin Laden. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor12/8/14]

Experts: Torture Is Ineffective, Counterproductive, And Has Aided Terrorist Causes

Military Interrogator Matthew Alexander: "Torture And Abuse Cost American Lives." In a November 30, 2008 Washington Post op-ed, an Air Force senior interrogator using the pseudonym Matthew Alexander explained that torturing terrorist detainees is counterproductive (emphasis added):

I know the counter-argument well -- that we need the rough stuff for the truly hard cases, such as battle-hardened core leaders of al-Qaeda, not just run-of-the-mill Iraqi insurgents. But that's not always true: We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques. A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate."

Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there's the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans. [The Washington Post, 11/30/08]

Former FBI Special Agent John Cloonan: "Enhanced And Coercive Interrogations Techniques Are Ineffective." In his June 10, 2008 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on coercive interrogation techniques, retired FBI Special Agent John Cloonan referenced his interviews of terrorist suspects and explained that coercive interrogation techniques are ineffective (emphasis added):

Of course, obtaining reliable information from jihadist foot soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq is vital to protect our troops, who are in harm's way. But even on the battlefield and under exigent circumstances, rapport building is more effective in gaining information for force protection in my opinion. Enhanced and coercive interrogation techniques are ineffective even under extreme circumstances. I've spoken to a number of FBI agent's who were seconded to Gitmo as interrogator's. In confidence, they told me the vast majority of detainees questioned under these stressful conditions were of little or no value as sources of useful intelligence.

[...]

Torture degrades our image abroad and complicates our working relationships with foreign law enforcement and intelligence agencies. If I were the director of marketing for al Qaeda and intent on replenishing the ranks of jihadists. I know what my first piece of marketing collateral would be. It would be a blast e-mail with an attachment. The attachment would contain a picture of Private England (sp) pointing at the stacked, naked bodies of the detainees at Abu Ghraib. The picture screams out for revenge and the day of reckoning will come. The consequences of coercive intelligence gathering will not evaporate with time. [United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 6/10/08]

Former FBI Agent Ali Soufan: "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" Are "Ineffective, Slow, And Unreliable." In his May 13, 2009 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, retired FBI agent Ali Soufan, who has interrogated Al Qaeda members, explained that the CIA's interrogation techniques were "ineffective, slow, and unreliable" and are detrimental in counterterrorism efforts. He also noted that the "amateurish" methods were "untested," were "advocated by contractors with no relevant experience," and went against the "the cumulative wisdom and successful tradition of our military" (emphasis added):

From my experience -- and I speak as someone who has personally interrogated many terrorists and elicited important actionable intelligence -- I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as the "enhanced interrogation techniques," a position shared by many professional operatives, including the CIA officers who were present at the initial phases of the Abu Zubaydah interrogation.

These techniques, from an operational perspective, are ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda. (This is aside from the important additional considerations that they are un-American and harmful to our reputation and cause.)

[...]

In summary, the Informed Interrogation Approach outlined in the Army Field Manual is the most effective, reliable, and speedy approach we have for interrogating terrorists. It is legal and has worked time and again.

It was a mistake to abandon it in favor of harsh interrogation methods that are harmful, shameful, slower, unreliable, ineffective, and play directly into the enemy's handbook. It was a mistake to abandon an approach that was working and naively replace it with an untested method. It was a mistake to abandon an approach that is based on the cumulative wisdom and successful tradition of our military, intelligence, and law enforcement community, in favor of techniques advocated by contractors with no relevant experience.

The mistake was so costly precisely because the situation was, and remains, too risky to allow someone to experiment with amateurish, Hollywood style interrogation methods- that in reality- taints sources, risks outcomes, ignores the end game, and diminishes our moral high ground in a battle that is impossible to win without first capturing the hearts and minds around the world. It was one of the worst and most harmful decisions made in our efforts against al Qaeda. [United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 5/13/09]

Former CIA Interrogator Glenn Carle: CIA's Coercive Interrogation Techniques "Didn't Provide Useful, Meaningful, Trustworthy Information." As reported by The New York Times in 2011, Glenn L. Carle, "a retired C.I.A. officer who oversaw the interrogation of a high-level detainee in 2002," said that coercive interrogation techniques "didn't provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information." The Times reported that Carle "said that while some of his colleagues defended the measures, 'everyone was deeply concerned and most felt it was un-American and did not work.'" [The New York Times, 5/3/11]

Four Experienced Interrogators Stated That Using "Enhanced" Interrogation "Almost Certainly Prolonged" The U.S. Hunt For Osama Bin Laden. In response to claims that the use of torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces, former interrogators Matthew Alexander (who used a pseudonym), U.S. Army intelligence officer Col. (Ret.) Stuart Herrington, former FBI special agent Joe Navarro, and military intelligence veteran Ken Robinson explained that the use of torture "almost certainly prolonged the hunt for Bin Laden":

The use of waterboarding and other so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques almost certainly prolonged the hunt for Bin Laden and complicated the jobs of professional U.S. interrogators who were trying to develop useful information from unwilling sources like Khalid Sheik Muhammed.

Reports say that Khalid Sheik Muhammed and Abu Faraq al-Libi did not divulge the nom de guerre of a courier during torture, but rather several months later, when they were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques.

This is not surprising. Our experience is that torture is a poor way to develop useful, accurate information.

We know from experience that it is very difficult to elicit information from a detainee who has been abused. The abuse often only strengthens their resolve and makes it that much harder for an interrogator to find a way to elicit useful information. [Huffington Post, 5/5/11]

Senate Torture Report Release Is Crucial For Transparency, International Obligations

Human Rights Watch: "US Foreign Policy Is Better Served By Coming Clean About US Abuses." On December 6, Human Rights Watch urged the Senate Intelligence Committee to release its report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program and to avoid further delays in its publication. Human Rights Watch Washington director Sarah Margon explained: "US foreign policy is better served by coming clean about US abuses rather than continuing to bury the truth":

The US Senate's intelligence committee should release as planned its report summary on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)'s detention and interrogation program, Human Rights Watch said today. The White House's expressed support for the release has been undermined by statements from the State Department raising concerns over the timing of the release and possible foreign policy implications.

"Last minute attempts to delay the release of the Senate torture report show just how important this document is to understanding the CIA's horrific torture program," said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. "US foreign policy is better served by coming clean about US abuses rather than continuing to bury the truth."

[...]

Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, recently said during the Committee against Torture's review of US compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, that "the test for any nation committed to this Convention and to the rule of law is not whether it ever makes mistakes, but whether and how it corrects them." He added that the US goal is to "move forward, but we know that to avoid falling backward, we must be willing to look backward, and to come to terms with what happened in the past."

Consistent with these objectives and its international legal obligations, the US should release the report summary without delay, Human Rights Watch said. Release of the report summary is a crucial first step toward providing accountability for grave international crimes.

"The CIA's efforts to stop the release or black out the report summary has made getting even to this point a prolonged, fraught ordeal," Margon said. "Further delays in the summary's release will only compound the harms done to US credibility as a rights-respecting country." [Human Rights Watch, 12/6/14]

Amnesty International USA: America's "International Legal Obligations" Demand Senate Report Be Made Public. On December 5, Amnesty International USA called for the release of the Senate's CIA interrogation program report, emphasizing that "The US government's international legal obligations" demand that information pertaining to the violation of human rights, including torture, "be made public":

The US government's international legal obligations on truth, accountability and remedy demand that any information that pertains to human rights violations, including the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance, be made public. The United Nations, among others, has formally recognized "the importance of respecting and ensuring the right to the truth so as to contribute to ending impunity and to promote and protect human rights."

The US government should declassify all government documents providing authorization or legal clearance or discussion of secret detention, rendition, and enhanced interrogation by the CIA or other agencies, and make public the full Senate Intelligence Committee report on  the CIA's secret rendition, detention and interrogation program. [Amnesty International USA, 12/5/14]

Mother Jones' Kevin Drum: Releasing Report May Make Torture Less Likely In The Future, Saving American Lives. Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum explained that releasing the Senate's report may save American lives in the future by reducing the odds "of America going on another torture spree":

[O]ur conduct during the early years of the war on terror almost certainly inflamed our enemies, bolstered their recruitment, and prolonged the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. This cost thousands of American lives.

President Obama may have banned torture during his administration, but is there any reason to think we've now given up torture for good? Not that I can tell, and it will cost many more thousands of American lives if it happens again. So for our own safety, even if for no other reason, we need to do everything we can to reduce the odds of America going on another torture spree.

How do we do that? Well, all it will take for torture to become official policy yet again is (a) secrecy and (b) another horrific attack that can be exploited by whoever happens to be in power at the moment. And while there may not be a lot we can about (b), we can at least try to force the public to recognize the full nature of the brutality that we descended to after 9/11. That might lower the odds a little bit, and that's why this report needs to be released. It's not just because it would be the right thing to do. It's because, in the long run, if it really does reduce the chances of America adopting a policy of mass torture again in the future, it will save American lives. [Mother Jones, 12/8/14]

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