Torture Works, Except When It Doesn't
Unless you're a real hard-core news geek, the name John Kiriakou probably doesn't ring any bells with you.
Kiriakou, a 15-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency's "intelligence analysis and operational directorates," is not, to put it mildly, one of the better-known figures in the whole debate over national security and the fight against terrorists. But I'm willing to bet you've heard about a statement he's made, because it's one of those statements that's been woven indelibly into the wingnut tapestry of talking points on the subject of torture.
Back in December 2007, Kiriakou (hereinafter referred to as "Mr. K") gave an interview to ABC's Brian Ross (one of the Right's most reliable water-carriers in the so-called "liberal media").
In that interview, Mr. K asserted that Abu Zubaydah, a senior al-Qaeda commander, had cracked under a single short session of the torture technique known as "waterboarding." Further, said Mr. K., "From that day on, he answered every question. The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks."
That statement was all that the torture fans of Wingnut Nation like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan needed to hear. Torture works, Limbaugh crowed while reporting on the ABC interview. "Thirty to 35 seconds, and he was done."
Except, as it turns out, Mr. K. didn't really know what he said he knew. In his recent memoir, "The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror," Mr. K admits that he wasn't there when the interrogation took place. "Instead," he said, "I relied on what I'd heard and read inside the agency at the time."
And, he goes on to say, the information he got may have been part of a disinformation campaign within the CIA itself: "In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own."
Further, Mr. K. reiterated an assertion that had come out since his interview: Zubaydah wasn't just waterboarded once; he was tortured 83 times in one month - "raising questions," Mr. K admits, "about how much useful information he actually supplied."
So to sum up, the guy who told everyone that torture works, and that torturing a top al-Qaeda commander saved lives, now says, "Well, maybe not so much." But, as we've seen over and over, once a talking point gets woven into that tapestry, it's almost impossible to pull it out.
Within a few days after the failed bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner by a poorly trained teenager who botched the job, Buchanan went on CNN to demand that Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab be tortured.
"We need to deny him his pain medication," Buchanan insisted, his voice rising hysterically until I began to wonder if soon only dogs would be able to hear him. "We need to subject him to harsh interrogation!"
Even the information that Mutallab was -apparently fully cooperating with the investigation didn't assuage Buchanan's lust to see him tortured, because, he asserted, we've "proved" that torture works.
Except we haven't. But the American Right seems determined to follow the words of St. Ronald Reagan, who famously said, "Facts are stupid things." They're aided in carrying out that belief by the so-called "liberal" media. ABC, for example, after heavily promoting Mr. K's interview back in 2007, has now conveniently buried his recantation deep in the back pages of its Web site.
The Right loves torture. They love it so much that, as Buchanan's rant shows, they want to torture people who are already talking. They don't really care if it works or not, because it's really not about gathering information. It's about taking out their rage and fear on someone, preferably someone who looks different from them. And they'll seize on any so-called justification for that, whether that justification turns out to be true or not.
So please, don't confuse them with the facts. And don't expect the "liberal" media to set the record straight when those "facts" turn out not to be facts at all.
Dusty Rhoades lives, writes and practices law in Carthage. Contact him at email@example.com.
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