Dan reports on what the Washington Post now prints as front-page news--something it ould have printed three years ago:
White House Watch - Bush's Torture Rationale Debunked: Abu Zubaida was the alpha and omega of the Bush administration's argument for torture. That's why Sunday's front-page Washington Post story by Peter Finn and Joby Warrick is such a blow to the last remaining torture apologists. Finn and Warrick reported that "not a single significant plot was foiled" as a result of Zubaida's brutal treatment -- and that, quite to the contrary, his false confessions "triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms."
Zubaida was the first detainee to be tortured at the direct instruction of the White House. Then he was President George W. Bush's Exhibit A in defense of the "enhanced interrogation" procedures that constituted torture. And he continues to be held up as a justification for torture by its most ardent defenders. But as author Ron Suskind reported almost three years ago -- and as The Post now confirms -- almost all the key assertions the Bush administration made about Zubaida were wrong. Zubaida wasn't a major al Qaeda figure. He wasn't holding back critical information. His torture didn't produce valuable intelligence -- and it certainly didn't save lives. All the calculations the Bush White House claims to have made in its decision to abandon long-held moral and legal strictures against abusive interrogation turn out to have been profoundly flawed, not just on a moral basis but on a coldly practical one as well. Indeed, the Post article raises the even further disquieting possibility that intentional cruelty was part of the White House's motive.
The most charitable interpretation at this point of the decision to torture is that it was a well-intentioned overreaction of people under enormous stress whose only interest was in protecting the people of the United States. But there's always been one big problem with that theory: While torture works on TV, knowledgeable intelligence professionals and trained interrogators know that in the real world, it's actually ineffective and even counterproductive. The only thing it's really good as it getting false confessions. So why do it? Some social psychologists (see, for instance, Kevin M. Carlsmith on NiemanWatchdog.org) have speculated that the real motivation for torture is retribution. And now someone with first-hand knowledge is suggesting that was a factor in Zubaida's case. Quoting a "former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Abu Zubaida," Finn and Warwick write that the pressure on CIA interrogators "from upper levels of the government was 'tremendous,' driven in part by the routine of daily meetings in which policymakers would press for updates...
"'They couldn't stand the idea that there wasn't anything new,' the official said. 'They'd say, "You aren't working hard enough." There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution -- a feeling that 'He's going to talk, and if he doesn't talk, we'll do whatever.'"' The Post story also makes it clear that some people with great reality-denying skills remain at the upper levels of the government: "Some U.S. officials remain steadfast in their conclusion that Abu Zubaida possessed, and gave up, plenty of useful information about al-Qaeda," Finn and Warwick write. "'It's simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn't intimately involved with al-Qaeda,' said a U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much about Abu Zubaida remains classified. 'He was one of the terrorist organization's key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures...and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information -- some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda -- is beyond me.'" But who are these people? How can they still possibly believe this given all the evidence to the contrary? What are they doing still in government?
Author and investigative reporter Suskind first exposed the rampant fallacies of the administration's Zubaida narrative in his explosive June 2006 book, The One Percent Doctrine. See my June 20, 2006 column for a summary. But mainstream news organizations, unable to match Suskind's sources, largely refused to acknowledge his reporting. Indeed, in September 2006, when the White House for the first time publicly acknowledged the existence of a secret CIA detention and interrogation program, Bush had no qualms about putting Zubaida front and center. In a major speech, he proudly described how Zubaida -- "a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden" -- was questioned using the CIA's new "alternative set of procedures" and then "'began to provide information on key al Qaeda operatives."
All lies and euphemisms. But all reported pretty much straight at the time by a mainstream media that, if it noted Suskind's reporting at all, did so as an afterthought...