Pre-Emptive Lessons of the Torture Report: It Doesn't Work, Is Bad for Morale, and Shouldn't Be Repeated. Until It Needs to Be.


UPDATED: The report is out and online here.

The long-delayed "torture report" is expected to be released today. It details interrogation methods in use a decade ago by the U.S. and other allies and is widely expected to cause a spike in anti-American sentiment, if not an increase in violence against Americans, throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.

Without the benefit of actually reading the report (not a small detail), experts are already outlining three big takeaways, including:

1. Actions from a decade ago will become the focus rather than ongoing policy. The report, rather than ongoing policy screwups and bad decisions, will be used to justify ongoing policy screwups and bad decisions. The Obama administration is already talking about how the release of the report may likely spark violent protests:

"There are some indications that the release of the report could lead to a greater risk that is posed to U.S. facilities and individuals all around the world," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. "So the administration has taken the prudent steps to ensure that the proper security precautions are in place at U.S. facilities around the globe."

That makes sense and is a welcome change from the admin's unwillingness to commemorate anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks with heightened security in Libya and elsewhere. 

2. This will not resolve the debate over whether torture "works." The "widely leaked" conclusion of the report, which apparently finds that torture produced no useful information, will be hotly contested. It already is:

"The report's leaked conclusion, which has been reported on widely, that the interrogation program brought no intelligence value is an egregious falsehood; it's a dishonest attempt to rewrite history," Rodriguez wrote in an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Friday. "I'm bemused that the Senate could devote so many resources to studying the interrogation program and yet never once speak to any of the key people involved in it, including the guy who ran it (that would be me)."

The problem for the CIA (and the government in general) is that its reliability is shot to hell, not simply by legendary intelligence failures over the years but the willingness of its past and present leaders to lie when convenient. Also not helping: The agency's willingness to spy on the Senate, including members of the commitee investigating it.

3. This "should never happen again." Yesterday in the Wash Post, Tufts political scientist Daniel Drezner noted the widespread agreement among people and groups that rarely agree on anything as a sign the report is important:

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that if Dianne Feinstein, Lindsey Graham, and the director of Human Rights Watch all think the report is necessary to prevent the United States from committing the same egregious mistakes in the future, then that countermands the magical thinking needed to accept the worst-case scenarios regarding its publication.

It's a small step forward that our country's leaders now have enough perspective to say that the U.S. should never, ever torture again (whether we're simply outsourcing the dirty work like so many other production processes is another matter). Expect that iron-willed resolve to last right up until the next big crisis when the always phony "ticking time bomb scenario" comes back into play.

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  1. The … conclusion of the report … finds that torture produced no useful information

    So, *everyone* will stop torturing! Except for “non-informational” purposes, of course.

    1. *Insert favorite Warty joke here*

    2. I only use torture for punitive purposes against fictional characters who really piss me off.

  2. As I understand it the report will not cover post-Bush activities.

    I wonder if that is because Obumbles was elected and Feinstein began serving as the chairwoman on the Select Committee on Intelligence? It seems they should have covered that time period too because I am sure all of the nasty stuff was stopped, right? I mean, if the right people were in charge then it would be included to show the contrast……

    I thought the “Bush’s Fault!” mantra had worn out. I guess not.

    1. Feinstein began serving as the chairwoman on the Select Committee on Intelligence

      There are those who consider *that* a form of torture.

    2. I was informed by NBC last night that Obama stopped all the torture, so no need to go beyond Bush. Yet Obama sure took credit for killing OBL, the important elements in catching him having apparently come from torture.

  3. As a strict utilitarian, I will torture the Easter Bunny to find his eggs and not think twice about it.

    1. What secrets are swimming around Santa’s head I wonder?

      1. “Now, Mr. Claus, will you be naughty, or nice?”

      2. What secrets? All of ’em, of course.

  4. Before 9/11 I don’t remember that the effectiveness of torture was a consideration on whether or not it should be used. I guess that’s how fast our deep and abiding principles last in the face of terror.

    1. ^We have a winner.

      People only have the principles they perceive that they can afford to have.

    2. If Bush, Cheney and others knew and did nothing, then they are criminals. If they did not know, then they are fools.

      The above is not an “either/or”.

      1. Does this apply to Obama as well? Or just Bush and Cheney?

  5. There are some indications that the release of the report could lead to a greater risk that is posed to U.S. facilities and individuals all around the world,”

    Will the report also be available in incendiary video format?

    1. For the love of God, don’t post it on the INTERNET!

  6. According to the Morning Jokesters not long ago, The end justifies the means!

    Howard Dean was, more or less, the Voice of Sanity.

      1. The guy is a little off his rocker….ok, maybe more than a little….but I never understood the criticism over the ‘Dean scream’. There were plenty of reasons to ditch the guy that had nothing to do with his mannerisms.

  7. Well, we could get worked up about this again, but it doesn’t involve white college girls.

  8. Also, during the discussion, the claim was made that only three (3!) people have ever been waterboarded. What sort of credulous imbecile believes that?

    1. Oh, come on, P. You know those weren’t really “people”.

  9. The report’s leaked conclusion, which has been reported on widely, that the interrogation program brought no intelligence value is an egregious falsehood

    A statement I am sure will be backed up with evidence. I’ll wait…

  10. There were plenty of reasons to ditch the guy that had nothing to do with his mannerisms.

    I found Dean to be an “intriguing” candidate in the very early days, before the Democratic Party got the bridle on him. I found his reference to GWB’s Peronism to be especially amusing and apt.

    Oh, what innocent days those were.

  11. When I was fairly young one of my great uncles told me about his experiences in WWII.

    One story I remember clearly; His unit was approaching some small town in France. They snuck up on three germans and captured them. They tied their hands behind their backs and sat them in a row. My uncle took out his bayonet and tapped them all on the head with it. He asked the highest ranking (officer?) what their strength was and if they had any tanks. The german spit at him, so he cut the guy’s throat. He went to the next one, tapped him on the head with the point of the knife and asked him the same questions. The first german had fallen over and was choking and bleeding all over the second one.

    Second german blurted out everything he knew including detailed info on the tank’s positions. The two survivors were shuttled back as prisoners.

    He told that story as if he were describing how he mowed the yard; very matter-of-factly, emotionless.

    That is what war is. Murder and torture writ large. That is the sort of shit that happens, but you never make it official policy. You also don’t have lawyers following troops around examining everything they do. You unleash the dogs and let them do what they do. When the dirty work is done you leash them back.

    1. Please don’t tell that story anymore without denouncing your scumbag war criminal uncle.


      1. His scumbag war criminal great uncle may have saved lives on both sides. The enemy was known to line up prisoners and execute them en mass, info or not. The info gained might have prevented more American POWs to be shot in the back of the head and dumped in a ditch.

        It’s so easy to be so self righteous sitting behind a keyboard with one’s biggest worry being a typo. Having read a few bios of RFS I doubt he would have had a problem with the great uncle’s actions in the midst of an all out war. I know I don’t. Suthenboy if there is any chance that old man is still alive give him my thanks please.

        Only semi connected but maybe interesting to some…..

        My hometown of Victoria, Tx. had a German POW camp. There were a few German immigrants and many decendents of German immigrants like my family in that part of the country. The prisoners were treated exceptionally well and some were allowed to work for pay on some of the surrounding farms. Some of the farmers still speak German. It was a story that I heard more than once that during those times it wasn’t unusual to see a POW drinking beer in town. All the while American POWs were in Dachau et. al. starving and brutalized. Many of them didn’t go home after the war and were buried there. Many of the German POWs didn’t go back to Germany by choice.

        1. I make no comparison to the Iraqi POWs and the actions of Suthenboy’s great uncle.

          I condone his actions on the front lines and in the heat of battle.

          I abhor what Army intellligence and the CIA did in Iraq.

    2. That is the issue with torture. If it is recently captured fighters and you are asking about stuff in the near area like troop strength, tanks, and artillery you can get useful information. This was similar to the Allen West incident.

      If you grab a bunch of guys and ask for strategic information, it is unlikely anything will be found of value because the capture of high ranking officers and leaders will most likely cause the enemy to change their plans – especially when it is easy to do so as for a group like Al Qaeda.

    3. There’s a world of difference between using violence or the threat of violence to obtain tactical intelligence in the field during a battle and arresting people who may or may not be combatants and torturing them over a period of months to see if they know anything useful. I’m guessing your great uncle didn’t have time to take a selfie, unlike Ms. England in the picture above, which is a pretty good indicator of which is which. I’ve got a problem with Abu Ghraib, but not even the shadow of a problem with what your great uncle did.

  12. How many of those tortured were POW’s? Bill makes this excellent point

    I’m ashamed of what some U.S. soldiers did to Iraqi POWs because those
    POWs were ordinary men who were probably drafted into Saddam’s army, and
    they are entitled to the protections of the Hague and the Geneva
    Convention. They had nothing to do with atrocities that were committed
    by Iraqi terrorists. If our people (or the Israelis) did that sort of
    thing to Hamas members or similar vermin, however, I would not give a
    If they had actually set German Shepherds on Hamas members or
    other terrorists instead of just threatening them, I would not shed one
    single tear.

    On the other hand, the guards who seemed to be enjoying their work too
    much, i.e. were engaging in sadistic enjoyment at the prisoners’
    expense, are not the kind of people who should be in any army even if
    they were doing it to terrorists instead of POWs. There is a difference
    between righteous anger (and revenge) and sadism.

    Then again, my opinion is that terrorists should not be taken prisoner
    in the first place
    . Their surrender should not be requested or accepted
    and first aid for terrorists should consist of the coup de grace. I hope
    the two terrorists who were killed were wounded first, and were then
    shot dead while begging for mercy.

  13. If soldiers committed torture, they should be punished, because it constitutes assault and battery under the UCMJ. But CIA spooks are not subject to the UCMJ. And for good reason. Unlike our soldiers, CIA spooks get no protection from the Geneva Convention. If they get captured, they are subject to torture. Who are we to tell them not to do the same to enemy spies under their custody?

    1. This was a very grey area. The CIA might have been interrogating them but the people they were interrogating considered themselves soldiers and not spies.

      Now you could say they were spies because of the asymmetrical warfare, but then you put every special ops guy in the US military under the same category, as that of spies and not deserving of Geneva Convention protection.

  14. National transparency makes the military wring its hands? Strikes me as lacking in spine.

  15. My buddy’s ex-wife makes $84 /hr on the computer . She has been fired from work for 7 months but last month her payment was $13167 just working on the computer for a few hours.
    site here ????

  16. My buddy’s ex-wife makes $84 /hr on the computer . She has been fired from work for 7 months but last month her payment was $13167 just working on the computer for a few hours.
    site here ????

  17. torture works only in situations where you will immediately know if the information extracted is true or bullshit, or where you can quickly determine if it is. Rather, At least quickly enough that the guy can recover from the torture but still remembers it, so more torture can serve as a disincentive from him giving you bad information.

    Torture is useless for trying to get vague or general information. Without a way for the torturing side to verify information that ALSO the torture victim knows is effective, that is he knows they can verify the info, the incentive structure is lost.

    1. if you ask for general info, or in general if he knows his tortureers are asking for information they can’t verify, he knows he’s going to be tortured anyway, he has no incentive to even say the correct thing. He’ll say anything to stop being tortured. He might say a bunch of stuff over time, and one of those things might be the total fucking truth, but his torturers will have no way of knowing which thing is the truth, and it’s unavoidable that the torturee would know that about his captors.

  18. It’s sad, but when this subject comes up normally rational people leap to the ‘feelz’ and seek and type of justification for why their feelings are correct in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

    Torture is still used because it works.

    And no matter what posturing goes on denouncing it, torture will still be used when needed.

    1. I took a college class several years back with a Marine sergeant who was back from Iraq. Torture came up. Turned out he was an intelligence guy, so the professor asked him whether torture was effective and how the gathered humint and so forth.

      He said that nobody bothered with “enhanced interrogation” because the incentive there drives the prisoner to just say whatever the interrogator wants to hear. People would make shit up just to stop the torture, and it was almost always crap. Plus, you had to go out and verify the intel, and if you hadn’t vetted the source beforehand that was infinitely more difficult since.

      So what they did was just put the word out that they were offering $2000 cash for any useful, actionable information. That’s how they got all their best intelligence. They wound up with much less bad intel, they made good contacts in the community, and they didn’t piss off the locals.

      Torture only works if you’ve already got most of the intel already. Bribery is a far, far more effective option.

      1. -1 “already”…damn lack of an edit button…

  19. My feelings about torturing terrorists are: red is positive and black is negative.

  20. love how the pictures are not related to the torture program in question.

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