Thwarting attacks — or not

THWARTING ATTACKS — OR NOT…. When rationalizing torture, Bush administration officials and their allies frequently insist that abusing detainees was not only effective in acquiring valuable intelligence, but actually saved American lives by thwarting terrorist attacks. This week, the argument was especially common.

The argument has been around for quite a while, and Bush and Cheney used to repeat it with some regularity while in office. The proof has been thinner than thin — the right generally relies on the alleged plot against the Library Tower in Los Angeles, and that talking point has already been thoroughly debunked. If that’s the best evidence of torture preventing attacks, the right’s argument falls apart.

As it turns out, as more information becomes available, the argument is falling apart anyway. (via Atrios)

The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any “specific imminent attacks,” according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.

That undercuts assertions by former vice president Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials that the use of harsh interrogation tactics including waterboarding, which is widely considered torture, was justified because it headed off terrorist attacks.

This is in line with comments from former FBI Director Robert Mueller, a Bush appointee, who was asked late last year whether the Bush administration’s “enhanced” interrogation techniques had actually thwarted any terrorist plots. Mueller replied, “I don’t believe that has been the case.”

Now, just to clarify, this all relates to the “effectiveness” argument preferred by conservatives. It’s not important to evaluate torture programs on moral, legal, ethical, or diplomatic grounds, the argument goes. If abusing detainees “works,” the tactics are worthwhile.

The “effectiveness” argument is itself a misguided approach, for all the reasons that are now familiar (torture is illegal; it’s immoral; it encourages terrorism; the information can be gleaned through non-torture methods, etc.). But the more Republican rhetoric about torture thwarting terrorist plots is also debunked, the more it tells us the right simply doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

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