Lately, former CIA Director George Tenet has been hitting the airwaves to promote his memoir At the Center of the Storm
. Public justification for his post-9/11 approval of torture-- "enhanced interrogation methods" like waterboarding, hypothermia, and forced standing-- follow a simple two prong approach: 1> CIA methods are not technically "torture" per se
; and 2> Even if they were "torture", such methods are a necessary evil in the war on terror. The snippet below from his recent 60 Minutes appearance
spells this out:
"We don't torture people," Tenet maintains.
"Khalid Sheikh Mohammad?" [60 Minutes Correspondent Scott] Pelley asks.
"We don't torture people," Tenet says.
"Water boarding?" Pelley asks.
"We do not – I don't talk about techniques," Tenet replies.
"Let me ask the question this way: why were enhanced interrogation techniques necessary?" Pelley asks.
"'Cause these are people that will never, ever, ever tell you a thing. These are people who know who’s responsible for the next terrorist attack. These are hardened people that would kill you and me 30 seconds after they got out of wherever they were being held and wouldn’t blink an eyelash," Tenet says. "You can sit there after, you can sit there five years later, and have this debate with me, all I'm asking you to do, walk a mile in my shoes when I'm dealing with these realities."
Tenet says the interrogations uncovered networks and broke up plots in the U.S.
Tenet refuses to provide any evidence in support of this last claim-- we are to simply take his word. Last year, Newsweek surveyed intelligence officials
familiar with CIA interrogation operations and found that the torture of "high-value" al Qaeda suspects like KSM lead to a scatter-shot of unreliable intel. According to Newsweek:
In recent interviews with NEWSWEEK reporters, U.S. intelligence officers say they have little—if any—evidence that useful intelligence has been obtained using techniques generally understood to be torture.
KSM did reveal some names and plots. But they haven’t panned out as all that threatening: one such plot was a plan by an Al Qaeda operative to cut down the Brooklyn Bridge—with a blow torch. Intelligence officials could never be sure if KSM was holding back on more serious threats, or just didn’t know of any.
Many of KSM's confessions are implausible. As I discussed in March
, KSM admitted to 31 separate plots-- including a plot to blow up a building in Washington state that was built nearly three years after
he was already in custody.
Careful non-violent rapport building interrogation techniques are methods proven to work
time-and-time again against terrorism suspects like KSM. Rapport building has not only worked before 9/11 terrorism cases, such as the 2000 USS Cole
bombing and 1998 East African Embassy attacks, but in operations in Iraq. For instance, this month's Atlantic
describes the methods used to locate and kill al Qaeda leader al-Zarqawi. In the interrogations leading to the discovery of his location, no torture was used
So why do people like Tenet continue to tow the line? In addition to saving face, he is also trying to save his own skin. He, along with Donald Rumsfeld, are named on a pending war-crimes suit to be filed in Spain
. To avoid self-incrimination, torture advocates like Tenet will continue to insist that CIA methods were justified and are not even "torture" in the first place. This is an untenable argument he will surely take to the grave.