Let's Torture Them So They Tell Us What They're Already Incredibly Eager To Reveal
January 12, 2015

In a New York Times story about Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born recruiter for the Yemen branch of Al Qaeda who was killed in a drone strike in 2011, there's this:

The evidence that Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch, and the late Mr. Awlaki, had a role in preparations for the Paris assault has accumulated steadily since Wednesday’s shootings. The two gunmen, identified by the French police as the brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, seemed determined to attach the A.Q.A.P.-Awlaki label to their shooting spree.

An eyewitness heard the brothers yell to passers-by at the shooting scene to “tell the media that this is Al Qaeda in Yemen.” They reportedly told the driver of a car they hijacked that their attack was in revenge for Mr. Awlaki’s death.

Intelligence officials and eyewitnesses said the older brother, Saïd Kouachi, 34, had spent time in Yemen between 2009 and 2012, getting firearms training from the Qaeda branch and, according to some reports, meeting with Mr. Awlaki. According to a Yemeni journalist, Mohamed al-Kibsi, Saïd Kouachi roomed briefly in the Yemeni capital, Sana, with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009 with explosives hidden in his underwear. Mr. Abdulmutallab, who is now serving a life sentence in federal prison, told the F.B.I. that his plot was approved and partly directed by Mr. Awlaki.

And Chérif Kouachi, 32, in a brief telephone interview with a French television reporter before he was killed with his brother on Friday, firmly associated the attack with A.Q.A.P. and its former propagandist.

“I, Chérif Kouachi, was sent by Al Qaeda in Yemen,” the younger Mr. Kouachi said in audio later broadcast by the BFMTV channel in France. “I went there, and it was Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki who financed me.” François Molins, the Paris prosecutor, said at a news conference later that day that Chérif Kouachi had visited Yemen in 2011.

Also on Friday, a member of A.Q.A.P.’s “media committee” sent journalists a statement explicitly claiming responsibility for the brothers’ attack.

I bring this up because our friends on the right insist that torturing terrorist suspects is an excellent idea -- on Fox News last week, Ralph Peters said, "these terrorists who did this monstrous attack in Paris are the people Senator Feinstein doesn't even want to waterboard."

But what's the ostensible point of torture? To extract information about a prisoner's ties to other people who threaten us. But why would we need to forcibly extract information from people who are eagerly informing us of the identities of their associates? Cherif Kouachi's "brief telephone interview with a French television reporter before he was killed" took place in the midst of a hostage standoff. That's how eager he was to tell us who his associates are.

And please note that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed underwear bomber, is also talking, even though we're not torturing him.

Calls for a renewal of "enhanced interrogation" will probably come up in the 2016 presidential campaign, and if we elect a Republican president we'll probably torture again. But why? The terrorists we've dealt with in recent years either seem to be freelancers acting under AQAP influence (the Tsarnaev brothers) or are connected to terrorist networks but seem to have no interest in concealing their ties; they appear to think that we can't (or won't) stop them and their allies even if we know what they're up to. (In France, given how much was already known about the perpetrators of this week's attacks, that certainly seems to be true.) If that's the case, what justification do rightists have for torture? Except, perhaps, the sheer joy it brings them to know that torture is taking place?

Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

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