Contra Cheney

CONTRA CHENEY…. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, a Bush appointee, was asked late last year whether the Bush administration’s “enhanced” interrogation techniques had actually thwarted any terrorist plots, as the president and his allies have claimed. Mueller responded, “I don’t believe that has been the case.”

Yesterday, a spokesperson for Mueller told the New York Times, “The quote is accurate.”

In light of this, Greg Sargent raises the politically salient point.

That stands in direct contrast to Dick Cheney’s recent claim that torture has been “enormously valuable” in terms of “preventing another mass-casualty attack against the United States.”

You’d think that this sort of thing would throw a bit of a wrench into the Bushies’ campaign. But as Charles Kaiser notes, these types of statements haven’t really broken through the media din.

On that score, it’s worth asking why the White House and its allies aren’t pushing back a bit harder on the Bushies’ claims.

The answer, I suspect, is that debating the efficacy of torture necessarily cedes significant ground. There is, to be sure, some value in exposing Cheney’s claims as false, and if abusing detainees doesn’t even produce anything of life-saving value (or produce information that couldn’t be gleaned through other means), then conservative torture apologists literally have nothing else to say.

But to paraphrase Fox News’ Shep Smith, it doesn’t matter if torture works. It just doesn’t. Nations that take the rule of law, morality, human rights, and their own national security interests seriously simply do not torture. Whether it’s effective or not is of no consequence, so engaging in the debate is probably viewed as counter-productive by the White House and its allies.

And speaking of the FBI, torture, and things that don’t work, Ali Soufan, a former FBI supervisory special agent, has an op-ed in the NYT today, explaining that he interrogated Abu Zubaydah and acquired “important actionable intelligence” before the torture began. Zubaydah kept talking, but none of the revelations were so unique they “couldn’t have been gained from regular tactics.”

Complicating matters further, Soufan also explained that the administration’s torture policies produced schisms among officials who were supposed to be working together.

One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.

As Adam Serwer put it, “As a result of the previous administration’s torture program, some of the country’s best interrogators and counterterrorism experts were frozen out of the intelligence gathering process. How does that make us any safer?”

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