A popular right-wing meme is that you can only get useful information out of alleged terrorists by torturing them. Oh, what's that, Scott? Waterboarding isn't torture? All right, then — by using “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Problem is, it's not true. Accused underpants bomber [insert guy whose name I can't spell here] has been supplying valuable intelligence. Consequently, the following item from American Prospect is worth considering.
The recent news about the interrogation of Abdulmutallab destroys several pro-torture, anti-due process myths that I'll list here:
Mirandizing a suspect prevents intelligence from being collected. Clearly not the case, as Abdulmutallab has continued talking to investigators after being mirandized. Interrogating someone without mirandizing them means that you can't use that information in court, though it's still usable as intelligence.
The FBI stopped interrogating Abdulmutallab so they could mirandize him. No. As the LA Times reported, the FBI decided to read Abdulmutallab his rights after he stopped talking.
Putting an “enemy combatant” like Abdulmutallab in the criminal justice system is unprecedented. False, as the Bush administration did it with nearly 150 terrorists convictedin civilian courts over eight years. Most recently, Bush-era CIA Chief Michael Hayden wrote an op-ed criticizing the decision to put Abdulmutallab in the criminal justice system, even though it was standard practice under Bush. A recent example is Bryant Vinas, an al-Qaeda recruitcaptured in Pakistan in 2008, who as part of a plea deal has reportedly provided a “goldmine” of intelligence. Hayden was CIA chief at the the time and said nothing, because the practice was uncontroversial.
We would have gotten all this information more quickly if we had just tortured him. Unlikely, and there would have been substantial downsides. Part of interrogating a suspect is verifying that information is true, and that takes time whether someone is being tortured or not. But if we had tortured Abdulmutallab, it's unlikely that his family would have played such a key role in his interrogation. Also, the information he gave wouldn't have been as reliable. Treating him humanely shows the world that it can trust the United States and encourages Muslims who may have important information to come forward.
The only way to get terrorists to talk is by torturing them, because of their religion. This myth is a staple of torture stalwarts on the right. Cliff May and former Bushspeechwriter Marc Thiessen have argued that suspected terrorists are compelled by their religious beliefs not to talk unless they “reached the limit of their ability to endure the hardships the infidel is inflicting on them,” in May's words. Thiessen responded gleefully to a poll suggesting most Americans wanted Abdulmutallab to be waterboarded. Something tells me that despite the fact that Abdulmutallab is talking, Thiessen is probably disappointed he wasn't tortured first.
The FBI isn't good at interrogating suspected terrorists. The events of the past few days have again proved this to be false. As former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke toldABC, “The FBI is good at getting people to talk. … They have been much more successful than the previous attempts of torturing people and trying to convince them to give information that way. The FBI does it right.”
In a related story, claims that waterboarding caused Abu Zubaydah to spill his guts right away have turned out to be totally unsubstantiated.
Interesting stuff. Remember it the next time someone tries to argue that we have to torture (OK, Scott, OK – waterboard) to beat the terrorists.