The Washington Post does the most insidious form of "journalism" today: they do an "on the other hand" story about torture. "Some say" it's wrong, but "others say" it works, so the implied conclusion is, how can it be wrong?
And therein lies the problem. Why does it matter? After eight years or so of deceptive leadership and an inbred corporate media corps eager to lend its imprimatur, we have gotten to the point where we're actually arguing that torture is okay if it works.
Life is full of challenges and dilemmas, but morally aware people don't take to the low road when they have to deal with them. For instance, I'm worried about paying for my COBRA coverage. If I could rob a bank and get away with it, would that be okay? Of course not.
And can I point out again that the most useful intelligence we got from detainees was because their interrogators were kind to them?
These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its "preeminent source" on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.
"KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete," according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA's then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.
The debate over the effectiveness of subjecting detainees to psychological and physical pressure is in some ways irresolvable, because it is impossible to know whether less coercive methods would have achieved the same result. But for defenders of waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general's report and other documents released this week indicate.
Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again.
"What do you think changed KSM's mind?" one former senior intelligence official said this week after being asked about the effect of waterboarding. "Of course it began with that."
Mohammed, in statements to the International Committee of the Red Cross, said some of the information he provided was untrue.
"During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I'm sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time," he said.
Critics say waterboarding and other harsh methods are unacceptable regardless of their results, and those with detailed knowledge of the CIA's program say the existing assessments offer no scientific basis to draw conclusions about effectiveness.
"Democratic societies don't use torture under any circumstances. It is illegal and immoral," said Tom Parker, policy director for counterterrorism and human rights at Amnesty International. "This is a fool's argument in any event. There is no way to prove or disprove the counterfactual."