A followup to Jesse's post on torture. I'm sure somebody will bring up the case of the Terrorist Who Talked In the Philippines, a.k.a. Abdel Hakim Murad (noted in the article Jesse links to). Here's a little background on the Murad episode from a great article by Lorraine Adams. Context: Adams is discussing a book by Alan Dershowitz, male hysteric and friend of wife murderers, who also cites the Murad case as a justification for putting sterilized needles under suspects' fingernails. (By the way, the Dershowitz book is such an abominable piece of crap that I'm pretty sure I died while reading it and have been dwelling in an earthly purgatory ever since—making me, not those two Afghan prisoners, the first person tortured to death by Allied forces.)
He mentions only one instance, that of Philippine police torturing al Qaeda terrorist Abdel Hakim Murad in 1995. Dershowitz footnotes his source. It is a Sept. 23, 2001 Washington Post story. Dershowitz leaves it at that. Further reading shows that the Post story has two sources, "an investigator intimately knowledgeable of the investigation," and Under the Crescent Moon, a book by journalists Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria.
Here is the entire quote in the Post from Under the Crescent Moon: "For weeks, agents hit him with a chair and a long piece of wood, forced water into his mouth, and crushed lighted cigarettes into his private parts. His ribs were almost totally broken and his captors were surprised he survived." Turning to the book, there are no footnotes nor is the source of this passage in the text.
The lack of a footnote, of course, doesn't mean the incident never happened. However, when the FBI mentioned Murad in its presentation to congress, it made no mention of Murad's confession's having prevented the airline bombings. The FBI does credit decrypted files from a computer obtained at the time of Murad's arrest. (He was involved in the famous 1995 fire at Ramzi Yousef's apartment in the Philippines, and it was Yousef's computer that had the relevant information.)
Not quite enough to declare this chestnut an urban legend, but enough to disqualify it as an argument for the benefits of torture.