U.S. Senate

Senate Concludes bin Laden Intel Did Not Come from Torture

Last updated on February 8th, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Senator Dianne Feinstein (Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee) and Senator Carl Levin (Chair of the Armed Services Committee) released a statement  obliterating claims by Jose Rodriguez and others that torture was a “central component” leading to success in the operation against Osama (Usama) Bin Laden.

Contrary to a claim that Jose Rodriguez made on May 4, 2011, the Senators point out that after his methods were used on KSM and bin Laden’s former courier, Abu Faraj al-Libbi,

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The pair provided false and misleading information during their time in CIA custody.

In direct contradiction to former CIA Director Michael Hayden’s statement on the Scott Hennen Show (May 3, 2011):

Information on Bin Laden’s courier was originally obtained by the CIA from a variety of classified sources, not from CIA detainees.

The Senators also disputed former Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s claim that KSM “broke like a dam” as a result of the torture program designed by Jose Rodriguez.

According to the statement, detailed information on these points will be provided in the Intelligence Committee’s Report.

As the Senators point out, it is disappointing to see Rodriguez and others make claims about government operations that occurred after they left the government and are no longer privy to crucial information needed to draw a valid conclusion.

It is also a disgrace that these claims were made in the name of justifying the Bush Administration’s torture program.

Here’s another interesting point. As the Senators point out, Rodriguez broke policy when he destroyed video tapes that documented the CIA’s use of torture.

From the Feinstein/Levin Statement:

We are also troubled by Mr. Rodriguez’s statements justifying the destruction of video tapes documenting the use of coercive interrogation techniques as “just getting rid of some ugly visuals.” His decision to order the destruction of the tapes was in violation of instructions from CIA and White House lawyers, illustrates a blatant disregard for the law, and unnecessarily caused damage to the CIA’s reputation.

As I pointed out previously in Rodriguez’s mind, the Inspector General was wrong for being critical of the torture program because it was policy.  However, violating policy as Rodriguez did when he destroyed those videos was perfectly acceptable because it “gets rid of some ugly visuals.”

  • The Senators’ statement concludes with restating the facts about the Bush Administration’s torture program.
  • The CIA learned about bin Laden’s courier and his true identity from sources other than the people they tortured while in CIA custody.
  • Any valid and valuable information the CIA obtained from the people they held was acquired before they were tortured.
  • People who may have had information on bin Laden provided no location information before or after being tortured.

The Senators’ statement rings true, in part, because they have access to the all of the information, vs. fragments from certain time frames. However, the points made about the quality of information acquired prior to and following torture are also substantiated by studies on the effects of torture.  Torture is torture, whether it’s done for a “good reason” by a “good country” or if it’s done for kicks by a country that has a poor human rights record.

Whether the country engaging in crimes against humanity is democratic, authoritarian, a theocracy, an oligarchy, or anything else, the torture is abhorrent, and the results of it will be the same.  Victims of torture tell the torturer what they want to hear because they want the torture to stop or as studies point out because torture can produce false memories.

Psychological studies suggest that during extreme stress and anxiety, the captive will be conditioned to associate speaking with periods of safety. For the captor, when the captive speaks, the objective of gaining information will have been obtained and there will be relief from the unsavory task of administering these conditions of stress. Therefore, it is difficult or impossible to determine during the interrogation whether the captive is revealing truthful information or just talking to escape the torture. Research has also shown that extreme stress has a deleterious effect on the frontal lobe and is associated with the production of false memories.

The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, notes the following scientific findings about the effects of torture on acquiring truthful information.

In a recent large scale study, Drizin and Leo (2004) identified 125 proven false confessions over a 30-year period.  Two characteristics of these known false confessions are notable.  First, they tended to occur in the most serious cases—81% confessed to the crime of murder, and another 9% confessed to the crime of rape.  Second, because only proven false confessions were included (e.g., cases where the confessor was exonerated by DNA evidence or cases where the alleged crime never occurred); the actual number of false confessions is likely to be substantially higher. Military action based on false information extracted through the use of torture has the potential to jeopardize the lives of military personnel and civilians. (My bold for emphasis)

I’ll admit and fully support the notion that we shouldn’t use torture period.  Whether it works or not doesn’t matter simply because torture is wrong.

The purpose of examining the “torture is effective” arguments is to point to the fallacies and blatant lies used in an effort to justify the unjustifiable.

There are practical consequences that come from using torture.  Torture is ultimately a threat to our national security for two reasons.  First, by resorting to torture, we increase the likelihood that our enemies will torture our troops. Second, because torture is scientifically proven to lead to false information, it means that precious time within a ticking bomb scenario is wasted on false leads.

Finally, science establishes that torture jeopardizes military personnel and civilians alike.

Image from Salon.com

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