So the CIA did indeed torture Abu Zubaida, the first al-Qaeda terrorist suspect to be waterboarded. So says John Kiriakou, the first former CIA employee directly involved in the questioning of "high-value" al-Qaeda detainees to speak publicly. He minced no words last week in calling the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" what they are.
But did they work? Torture's defenders, including the wannabe tough guys who write Fox's "24," insist that the rough stuff gets results. "It was like flipping a switch," said Kiriakou about Abu Zubaida's response to being waterboarded. But the al-Qaeda operative's confessions -- descriptions of fantastic plots from a man whom journalist Ron Suskind has reported was mentally ill -- probably didn't give the CIA any actionable intelligence. Of course, we may never know the whole truth, since the CIA destroyed the videotapes of Abu Zubaida's interrogation. But here are some other myths that are bound to come up as the debate over torture rages on.
1 Torture worked for the Gestapo.
Actually, no. Even Hitler's notorious secret police got most of its information from public tips, informers and interagency cooperation. That was still more than enough to let the Gestapo decimate anti-Nazi resistance in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, France, Russia and the concentration camps.
Yes, the Gestapo did torture people for intelligence, especially in its later years. But this reflected not torture's efficacy but the loss of many seasoned professionals to World War II, increasingly desperate competition for intelligence among Gestapo units and an influx of less disciplined younger members. (Why do serious, tedious police work when you have a uniform and a whip?) It's surprising how unsuccessful the Gestapo's brutal efforts were. They failed to break senior leaders of the French, Danish, Polish and German resistance. I've spent more than a decade collecting all the cases of Gestapo torture "successes" in multiple languages; the number is small and the results pathetic, especially compared with the devastating effects of public cooperation and informers....
Baseball's fixed, the economy's being run by folks who don't know any better than you and me, we have no foreign policy strategy, and we're no longer "the good guy" that I thought we should be.
Why's the country in such a bad way? We have poor leadership. Any asshole can start a war, happens all the time, it takes finesse and skill to harmonize relations. Any old blowhard (black, white, female, even Mormon) can confidently state that things need to change in Washington. Well start, then, by calling a spade a spade: torture is unAmerican, our economy sucks because we have a government that spends too much and produces too little and this ties into our foreign policy problems:
Economy's in bad shape? Start a war. A war is like a candy bar for your body's caloric-intake needs. Wars produce a spike in production (someone's gotta manufacture those bombs and bullets) and as we see with Blackwater, there are a host of companies that bid for the contracts for killing and (de)stabilizing foreign locales. Candy bars give you a boost in simple carbohydrates which are pure energy, but they fizzle-out quickly, the energy is not a smart choice unless you eat the candy bar and then start running at top speed for the next 30 minutes or more.
The same is true with war expenditures, and more so, because what an economy really needs is prolonged bouts of stability not only domestically but also abroad. We need young men and woment that will start businesses and manufacture widgets and have children and we need trade partners (other countries) that are in the same situation.
In a world where we can torture, the only longterm effect I can foresee is a general rise in distrust and suspicion; a cutting-off of compassion and a lot less goodwill.