Refuting the Self-Fulfilling Torture Prophecy: A Response to Hayden and Mukasey

Not torturing prisoners is one of our nation's proudest traditions, one of the features that define us. Yet, the men who served as CIA Director and Attorney General still believe in these techniques.
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No timid wimp is former CIA Director Michael Hayden. And he's not reluctant to tell you so. You can find out what a tough guy he really is by reading his opinion piece, written with former Attorney General Michael "Not sure waterboarding is torture" Mukasey in the April 17 Wall Street Journal, defending the use of torture and objecting to the release of the nightmarish memos. We're talking here about "walling", (repeatedly smashing a detainee against a wall), stress positions (hanging a person from the ceiling with feet barely touching the floor -- including a one legged man), sleep deprivation for as long as 11 days, cramped confinement (put in a casket-sized box or smaller -- insects optional), and that medieval favorite, waterboarding.

In fact, it was the torture described in these memos, the existence of secret prisons, Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib that endangered the security of the United States. What better tools could there be to inflame and recruit new terrorists and instill hatred for our country throughout the Muslim world and beyond? Still Mukasey and Hayden clearly believe that these techniques should have been used and should be used in the future. They are in favor of torture.

Hayden and Mukasey accuse the no-torture policy of inviting "the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on September 11, 2001." That's a version of history I actually hadn't heard espoused by anyone ever before -- that had the intelligence community not been weakened by timidity and fear, 9/11 might not have happened. All this time I thought it had more to do with the fact that the White House did nothing to follow up on the August 6, 2001 daily briefing entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." that included the warning that "FBI information... indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings..."

The Michaels Hayden and Mukasey assert that "public disclosure of the OLC opinions, and thus the techniques themselves, assures that terrorists are now aware of the absolute limit of what the U.S. government could do to extract information from them." Certainly the men who served as CIA Director and Attorney General must be aware that the secret of these techniques has been known by anyone who could read a newspaper beginning as long ago as December 26, 2002. That's when Dana Priest and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post reported on "stress and duress" interrogation tactics. Yes, everyone already knew about this dirty secret, and many have long been genuinely repulsed and offended by the attitude of one official who was quoted years ago as saying, "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job."

Hayden and Mukasey express concern that terrorists will ridicule us, when in reality Al Qaeda must be deeply disappointed to have lost one of their best propaganda tools. The disclosure, they say, "will incur the utter contempt of our enemies" and that those capable of monstrous acts such as Daniel Pearl's beheading won't be "shamed into giving up violence by the news that the U.S. will no longer interrupt the sleep cycle of captures terrorists..." Are we therefore to conclude that the United States should allow the terrorists themselves to set the standard for us -- that since they have shed their humanity and respect for international law, we should do the same? Senator John McCain, a victim of torture, had it right when he said in rejecting the use of such techniques, "It's not about them; it's about us."

Not torturing prisoners is one of the proudest traditions of the United States, one of the features that define us, one that was honored by George Washington when he insisted that the British captives be treated with humanity and one that has long been embodied in our law and international law. General Washington told his troops, "Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands."

Hayden and Mukasey claim that critical information regarding terrorists and their attacks were derived from use of these "enhanced techniques" and suggest that anyone on the Congressional committees who heard Hayden's briefings could not conclude otherwise. As one of those who was privy to those briefings, I saw no empirical evidence to prove that assertion. Video tapes that were made of the interrogations have been destroyed. It is public knowledge that the interrogators administering the harshest techniques, pleaded to headquarters to stop, saying that Abu Zubaydah had nothing more to offer. Headquarters said no.

The value of information gained from torture has been outright discredited by the most experienced interrogators. Those experts demonstrated that the standard interview used with Abu Zubaydah before he was whisked away by the CIA to one or more "black sites", elicited significant, solid information to government interrogators. I spoke to an early Zubaydah interrogator who believed the process was going well. Note also that the FBI removed itself entirely from the interrogations after the "enhanced techniques" were introduced.

The authors say that it is a "self-fulfilling prophecy" to assume that using these extraordinary (and likely illegal) methods "disgraced us before the world". And throughout their opinion piece they suggest that rejecting those tactics puts our country in danger. To refute that notion, I turn to the simple but eloquent words of President Obama who said when releasing the memos, "I prohibited the use of these interrogation techniques by the United States because they undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer. Enlisting our values in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals, and that is why these methods of interrogation are already and thing of the past." The president said that withholding them "could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about action taken by the United States."

Now that's my kind of tough guy. I'm glad that Hayden and Mukasey have been replaced by people who have faith in the strength of American values and laws. I believe our country is stronger and safer as a result of ending torture and releasing these memos. Thank you President Barack Obama.

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