The right-wingers keep claiming -- contra reality -- that Osama bin Laden's death was made possible by torture, proving that torture works. But even if you ignore reality and admit for argument's sake that it does work, the question then goes
May 10, 2011

The right-wingers keep claiming -- contra reality -- that Osama bin Laden's death was made possible by torture, proving that torture works. But even if you ignore reality and admit for argument's sake that it does work, the question then goes begging: Should the United States be doing it?

Following the weekend's steady drumbeat, the meme that "the torture worked" was again the main topic on Fox yesterday, this time bouncing off Chris Wallace's wankery on Sunday. Both Bill O'Reilly (as Karoli notes) and Sean Hannity built their entire shows around this single snippet.

The most appalling performance came from Liz Cheney on Hannity's show:

HANNITY: All right. On the next segment, what I mentioned with Dick Morris, so we are going to play this tape of FOX News' Sunday host Chris Wallace. I thought he asked a really good question of the White House National Security adviser, about, you know, enhanced interrogations are contrary to American values. Well, is that worse than putting a bullet in the brain of bin Laden? I mean, I thought the answer was weak. We'll show in the minute, but go ahead.

CHENEY: Yes, you know, I think you are exactly right. And I thought it was a great question that Chris asked. Because this administration, you know, even before they came into office worked hard to try to score political points by making allegations that simply weren't true about the enhance interrogation program. And trying to act as it though it was somehow counter to American values. Now, I don't think, you know, probably most people watching tonight have no problem at all, I certainly don't, I know you don't, with the fact that the Navy SEALs killed Usama bin Laden. But, if it is OK to go after terrorists to do targeted assassinations, which I believe it is, and the administration seems to believe it is.

Then it is very hard to understand how it is not OK from their perspective to subject terrorists to the very same techniques that our own people have to go through in SEAL training. And a very specific example of this is Chip Burlingame who was the pilot of American airlines flight 77 who was killed by the terrorists exactly. And he himself was subjected to these techniques. So, I think it is pretty appalling that the administration is trying to score political points here, trying to sustain a position that is unsustainable. And frankly, that makes us less safe because it means if we do in fact capture somebody as a result of this treasure trove, there's no really effective way we've got in place right now to interrogate them.

But then we get to what this is all really about: Vindicating the torture conducted under the Bush regime:

HANNITY: Do you believe what happened in the killing of bin Laden vindicates -- your father was a fierce, strong advocate is to this day of enhanced interrogations, black sites, rendition policies, all of the things that President Obama cancelled -- go ahead.

CHENEY: I think that it certainly shows that those programs worked. I think it is one more piece of evidence. We knew that those programs were effective before. We now know that they helped lead us to the information that ultimately led to bin Laden. And I think once again, you know, it shows that the administration, as were you saying in the last segment, they ought to stop this investigation, stop this threat of prosecution of those Americans who in fact, bravely carry out these programs. It is really an abomination that they are continuing to live under the threat of indictment and the threat of prosecution for something that led to the death of bin Laden.

There's only one little problem with Cheney's and Hannity's love of torture: It's illegal, immoral, unethical, and depraved. OK, make that a few little problems.

The most succinct answer to this palpable load of utter rubbish came from Matthew Alexander, the former military-intelligence interrogator who has been a consistent and thoughtful critic of the use of torture. He was on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman a few days ago (via mcjoan) and offered a careful explanation of why torture is never, ever right -- even beyond the fact that it wastes resources and really doesn't work:

ALEXANDER: My argument is pretty simple, Amy. I don’t torture because it doesn’t work. I don’t torture because it’s immoral, and it’s against the law, and it’s inconsistent with my oath of office, in which I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. And it’s also inconsistent with American principles. So, my primary argument against torture is one of morality, not one of efficacy.

You know, if torture did work and we could say it worked 100 percent of the time, I still wouldn’t use it. The U.S. Army Infantry, when it goes out into battle and it faces resistance, it doesn’t come back and ask for the permission to use chemical weapons. I mean, chemical weapons are extremely effective—we could say almost 100 percent effective. And yet, we don’t use them. But we make this—carve out this special space for interrogators and say that, well, they’re different, so they can violate the laws of war if they face obstacles.

And that’s an insult to American interrogators, who are more than capable of defeating our enemies and al-Qaeda in the battle of wits in the interrogation room. And American interrogators have proven this time and time again, from World War II through Vietnam, through Panama, through the First Gulf War. And let’s go back to the successes of American interrogators. You know, American interrogators found Saddam Hussein without using torture. We found and killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda Iraq, which helped turn the Iraq war, without using torture. And numerous other leaders that we have found and captured—another guy named Zafar, that I describe in my book—all these successes have come without the use of torture.

GOODMAN: You say that the use of torture was al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool.

ALEXANDER: Yes. When I was in Iraq, I oversaw the interrogations of foreign fighters. And those foreign fighters, the majority of them, said, time and time again, the reason they had come to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse of detainees at both Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. And this is not my opinion. The Department of Defense tracked these statistics. And they were briefed, every interrogator who arrived there, that torture and abuse was al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool.

That's a simple and unambiguous answer to the Foxheads and Cheneyites out there who want torture to be a legitimate tool of government agencies.

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