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Did Torture Lead to Osama?

June 7, 2011

Did Torture Lead to Osama Bin Laden? The Last Post

I think we’ve had enough of Bush administration leftovers and their acolytes trying to justify their crimes by claiming that waterboarding and other “harsh” interrogation techniques produced information that helped target Osama Bin Laden. I’ve posted on this before, and don’t want to waste any more time on it. So, as my final words, here are a few more resources on the issue for those who are still being harangued by neighbors or co-workers, and need to muster their arguments. After this, no mas, basta, genug…

♦   I have to start with a column by Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe op-ed page’s resident right-winger, and someone with whom I almost never find the slightest grounds for agreement. Here, though, Jacoby takes a rock-solid stance against the use of torture, even if it may sometimes yield valuable information.

“The case against waterboarding never rested primarily on its usefulness. It rested on its wrongfulness. It is wrong when bad guys do it to good guys. It is just as wrong when good guys do it to Al Qaeda…There was good reason why waterboarding was one of the war crimes for which Japanese officers were hanged after World War II.
            “Like chemical and biological warfare, torture is something we refuse to engage in, despite its potential effectiveness, on the grounds that it is fundamentally immoral and uncivilized. Our repudiation of torture is absolute — the international Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994, allows for ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever.’ That unconditional repudiation is one of the lines that separates us from the barbaric jihadists with whom we are at war.”

♦   I’ve wondered whether the torture debate in the U.S. may have led to a decline in public respect for international human rights norms, but haven’t seen any data on the question. Human Rights Now, a blog of Amnesty International, calls our attention to a rather disturbing survey of U.S. attitudes to international humanitarian law. The survey was conducted by the American Red Cross to mark the 150th anniversary of our Civil War. It found that 59% of teenagers and 51% of adults surveyed believe that it is sometimes acceptable to torture enemy fighters to obtain military information. As Amnesty notes, “The survey powerfully suggests just how far the norm against torture in American public life has been eroded.” The Red Cross Survey is brief and graphically presented, and I strongly recommend taking a look.

♦   As Ellen Massimino, President of Human Rights First, writes: “The renewed debate has made clear that we can’t sit back and let the torture apologists speak unopposed…I went to the American Enterprise Institute to debate the issue with prominent torture supporters, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, on a panel moderated by John Yoo.”  Watch the debate here.

♦   Writing for Common Dreams, Marjorie Cohn musters considerable historical background to demonstrate that the torture of detainees had no impact on the quest for the Al Quaeda leader; that it in fact produced substantial misleading information (an argument also emphasized by Senator John McCain); and that all of the crucial information was obtained through non-abusive interrogation techniques and intelligence gathering. She quotes Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, as saying: “If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama in 2003…It took years of collection and analysis from many different sources to develop the case…” Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild.

♦   Finally, Peter Weiss, a vice-president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, cites one of the organization’s cases, in which the Federal Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit) said “The torturer has become like the pirate and slave trader before him, hostis humani generic, an enemy of all mankind.”

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