NO TORTURE. NO EXCEPTIONS….The latest issue of the Monthly is devoted to a single subject: torture. An editors’ note explains:
In most issues of the Washington Monthly, we favor articles that we hope will launch a debate. In this issue we seek to end one. The unifying message of the articles that follow is, simply, Stop.
What follows is a set of 37 short essays by writers from all over the political spectrum, from Bob Barr on the right to Nancy Pelosi and Jimmy Carter on the left. You can find them all here, and I’ll be highlighting a few of them throughout the week. In one of them, journalist Peter Bergen talks about the torture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:
What is perhaps most astonishing of all is that the mistreatment of KSM and bin al-Shibh was entirely unnecessary. Before they were captured, they had explained the details of the 9/11 attacks in an April 2002 interview with Yosri Fouda, an Al Jazeera correspondent….The CIA provided summaries of the interrogations of KSM and bin al-Shibh to the 9/11 Commission. There is little or no difference between the account that KSM and bin al-Shibh freely volunteered to Fouda in the spring of 2002 and the version the commission published in its 2004 report. Nor was Fouda’s reporting difficult to find: he hosted a one-hour documentary on Al Jazeera, wrote a long piece in London’s Sunday Times, and coauthored a book, Masterminds of Terror, about KSM and bin al-Shibh. By the time CIA officials captured the pair, a full account of their operations was only a Google search away.
Obviously, then, it was unnecessary to waterboard KSM to find out what he knew about the 9/11 plot. What, though, of the administration’s assertion that coercive interrogation techniques have saved American lives? To assess that claim, we must examine the details of other terrorist plots that KSM gave up after his capture, presented in a document the government released in 2006:
KSM launched several plots targeting the US Homeland, including a plot in late 2001 to have … suicide operatives hijack a plane over the Pacific and crash it into a skyscraper on the US West Coast; a plan in early 2002 to send al-Qa’ida operatives to conduct attacks in the U.S.; and a plot in early 2003 to employ a network of Pakistanis … to smuggle explosives into New York and to target gas stations, railroad tracks, and a bridge in New York.
It all sounds very frightening, except that there is no indication that these plots were ever more than talk.
In other words, not only was torture unnecessary, but it was actually counterproductive. KSM produced no new information under torture, only a litany of false confessions — maybe out of vanity, maybe in an effort to protect other al-Qaeda operatives. Who knows. What we do know is that torturing KSM did no good, sent hundreds of agents scurrying after phantoms, and has made his prosecution far more difficult than it needed to be.
Most of you reading this hardly need to be convinced on this score. But you almost certainly know people who do need to be convinced — and who need more than just a moral argument. So this is it. The next time somebody asks, tell them the story of Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Tell them the story of not just how torture has tainted America’s claim to the moral high ground throughout the world, but how it’s actively hurt the war on terror. Tell them.