Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Screen Capture Coulda Woulda Shoulda

The usual suspects are trying to argue that their crimes made the killing of Bin Laden possible. As usual they are careful to elide the difference between information obtained from high value detainees and information obtained from high value detainees via torture.

As has always been the case so far, the apologies for torture are contradicted by the actual facts. Before going on I write that torture would still be morally unacceptable even if it worked. But it sure seems that it is not a useful way to obtain information.

This time, the apologia is collapsing in real time. I wish I had saved screen captures of this very important article by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo. I will try to reproduce from my memory how Goldman and Apuzzo updated the story. My sense is that they reported a misleading claim by Marty Martin (a retired CIA officer who for years led the hunt for bin Laden). Later they were contacted by two different sources who provided proof that the the conclusion suggested by Martin's claim is totally false.

IIRC, a passage in the story updated as follows.

First

The revelation that intelligence gleaned from the CIA's so-called black sites helped kill bin Laden was seen as vindication for many intelligence officials who have been repeatedly investigated and criticized for their involvement in a program that involved the harshest interrogation methods in U.S. history.

[Related: Major attacks by al-Qaida]

"We got beat up for it, but those efforts led to this great day," said Marty Martin, a retired CIA officer who for years led the hunt for bin Laden.


Marty Martin is clearly one of the people who claims to see this as vindication. Note that the tiny quote doesn't prove anything. "those efforts" could refer to torture or it could refer other efforts. This is a universal feature of recent defenses of torture. It is just unusual that the trick was denounced so quickly this time.

A bit later IIRC the passage became

The revelation that intelligence gleaned from the CIA's so-called black sites helped kill bin Laden was seen as vindication for many intelligence officials who have been repeatedly investigated and criticized for their involvement in a program that involved the harshest interrogation methods in U.S. history.

[Related: Major attacks by al-Qaida]

"We got beat up for it, but those efforts led to this great day," said Marty Martin, a retired CIA officer who for years led the hunt for bin Laden.

Mohammed did not discuss al-Kuwaiti while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He acknowledged knowing him many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.


I can't doubt that Goldman or Apuzzo got a call (or e-mail) telling them that they had fallen for the usual trick. They add an odd non-conclusion "leaving it once again up for debate..." This is an unusual statement in their own voices and, It seems to me, an apology for falling for the trick.

Then there was a still more important update. At this point I don't remember what the first draft showed. The new text comes before the passage I have been quoting. Some of the claims below were in the second update of the article

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, detainees in the CIA's secret prison network told interrogators about an important courier with the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti who was close to bin Laden. After the CIA captured al-Qaida's No. 3 leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he confirmed knowing al-Kuwaiti but denied he had anything to do with al-Qaida.

Then in 2004, top al-Qaida operative Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Ghul told the CIA that al-Kuwaiti was a courier, someone crucial to the terrorist organization. In particular, Ghul said, the courier was close to Faraj al-Libi, who replaced Mohammed as al-Qaida's operational commander. It was a key break in the hunt for in bin Laden's personal courier.

"Hassan Ghul was the linchpin," a U.S. official said.
Finally, in May 2005, al-Libi was captured. Under CIA interrogation, al-Libi admitted that when he was promoted to succeed Mohammed, he received the word through a courier. But he made up a name for the courier and denied knowing al-Kuwaiti, a denial that was so adamant and unbelievable that the CIA took it as confirmation that he and Mohammed were protecting the courier. It only reinforced the idea that al-Kuwaiti was very important to al-Qaida.


Oh my that does change things quite a bit from the first version. They now write that both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Faraj al-Libi lied about al Kuwaiti. The interrogation of al-Libi was useful not because his will was broken by torture, but because his interrogators figured out he was lying.

The evidence can be summarized by the simple statement "people you torture lie to you." It thus supports one of the claims of opponents of torture (not the key moral claim but a hotly debated claim).

As usual there are only two explanations for the apologie for torture -- either the apologists are totally ignorant or they are shamelessly attempting to deceive and, this time, caught within hours.

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