Op-Ed Columnist – The Real-Life ‘24’ of Summer 2008 – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
After 9/11, our government emphasized “interrogation over due process,” Ms. Mayer writes, “to pre-empt future attacks before they materialized.” But in reality torture may well be enabling future attacks. This is not just because Abu Ghraib snapshots have been used as recruitment tools by jihadists. No less destructive are the false confessions inevitably elicited from tortured detainees. The avalanche of misinformation since 9/11 has compromised prosecutions, allowed other culprits to escape and sent the American military on wild-goose chases. The coerced “confession” to the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to take one horrific example, may have been invented to protect the real murderer.
The biggest torture-fueled wild-goose chase, of course, is the war in Iraq. Exhibit A, revisited in “The Dark Side,” is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an accused Qaeda commander whose torture was outsourced by the C.I.A. to Egypt. His fabricated tales of Saddam’s biological and chemical W.M.D. — and of nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda — were cited by President Bush in his fateful Oct. 7, 2002, Cincinnati speech ginning up the war and by Mr. Powell in his subsequent United Nations presentation on Iraqi weaponry. Two F.B.I. officials told Ms. Mayer that Mr. al-Libi later explained his lies by saying: “They were killing me. I had to tell them something.”
Oh my God, that makes me want to cry. Torture is unspeakably bad; that’s established. It’s just amazing exactly how counterproductive it’s been for us, resulting in justice delayed, justice denied, terrorists running free, and the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocents.
Even when you put the paramount humanitarian concerns, of who we are as a nation (and if there’s anything left to defend) aside, torture is a staggeringly unwise military move that prevents us from prosecuting crimes against humanity, silences victims, protects perpetrators, and leads us astray right when we are at our most vulnerable. Torture delivers bad intelligence, torture ruins our credibility, torture turns public sentiment (vital in a war like Iraq) against us, torture ferments lingering resentment that makes it difficult to secure victory, torture radicalizes the wavering, torture makes it harder for us to fight terrorism, and torture puts our own soldiers, and those of our allies, in terrible danger. With all that, torture is unquestionably atrocious and worthless as military strategy. Once you reintroduce the humanitarian concern, of our basic beliefs as American citizens, it becomes an unqualified abomination.
I look forward to the day when we can say once again, as Americans, we do not torture, none of us, anywhere, for any reason. For now, I remain wholly dissatisfied with our leadership as a country.