Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Did the torture work?

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The NYT headline would seem to say yes: "Banned Techniques Yielded 'High Value Information,' Memo Says."

That's the memo that Obama's NID, Adm. Dennis Blair, circulated privately to "colleagues" last week. And, yes, Blair did indeed write that "[h]igh value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country."

In response, the bloodthirsty torture enthusiasts of the wacko right are frothing at the mouth. Take, for example, RedState's Erick Erickson, who asks this oh-so-predictable question: "How Many Americans Will Die Because of Barack Obama's Weak National Security Leadership?" (For more right-wing frothing, see here.)

Right, because if you don't torture, you're basically killing Americans. (Yes, such idiocy is all-too-common over on the waterboarding right.)

Here's the thing, though. As Blair himself admits -- and this is either ignored or conveniently written off by those same enthusiasts:

The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security.

Now, I think Blair is wrong and irresponsible for finding no fault with "those who made the decisions at that time," as well as for "defend[ing] those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given." And I agree with Big Tent Democrat that Blair may be a "problem" given his apparent differences with Obama over torture.

Still, what is fairly clear is that he is not a supporter of torture, as the Bushies were, and that there is far more nuance to his claim that the torture worked than the right would have us -- or, rather, its own echo chamber -- believe.

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