Torture Follies (Confirmed!)

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For all of you who don’t get the Washington Post over the weekend (which, I’m assuming, is the vast majority of you), here is the beginning of its very important Sunday front-pager, on how useless torture enhanced interrogation techniques were under the Bush Administration.

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

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, they said.

Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations,” and other top officials called him a “trusted associate” of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.

Not much of this is new — if you’ve read books like The One-Percent Doctrine and The Dark Side, you know that torture never produced the bounty of information that Dick Cheney still wants you to believe it did, and that Zubaida (most news outlets have spelled it Zubaydah in the past) was a fixer, a functionary, a glorified travel agent. And he was mentally unstable to boot. The idea that he is an example of how the Bush Administration got detainee policy right is one of the great and enduring fictions of the last decade., and this article confirms that.

Update: Andrew has some additional thoughts.

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It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

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