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Strong opinions, weakly held

FBI interrogator vs Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney has said that torture extracted important intelligence from prisoners. Former FBI counterterrorism agent Ali Soufan says not so much:

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

1 Comment

  1. Thomas Brownback

    April 26, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    More coverage of this via Dina Temple-Raston a few days back on NPR.

    I can sympathesize with Sam Harris’s argument that torture might be sometimes preferable to bombing runs, if effective. What I cannot fathom is why someone would claim torture is effective when it is not. I’m often a bit of a conservative apologist, but this whole “torture because we can and insist it worked later” represents a cartoonish level of villainy. (aka “supervillain evil“.)

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