What we got from interrogations

NY Times:

Even the most exacting truth commission may have a hard time determining for certain whether brutal interrogations conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency helped keep the country safe.

Last week’s release of long-secret Justice Department interrogation memorandums has given rise to starkly opposing narratives about what, if anything, was gained by the C.I.A.’s use of waterboarding, wall-slamming and other physical pressure to shock and intimidate Qaeda operatives.

Senior Bush administration officials, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and cheered by many Congressional Republicans, are fighting a rear-guard action in defense of their record. Only by using the harshest methods, they insist, did the intelligence agency get the information it needed to round up Qaeda killers and save thousands of American lives.

Even President Obama’s new director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, wrote in a memorandum to his staff last week that “high value information came from interrogations in which these methods were used,” an assertion left out when the memorandum was edited for public release. By contrast, Mr. Obama and most of his top aides have argued that the use of those methods betrayed American values — and anyway, produced unreliable information. Those are a convenient pair of opinions, of course: the moral balancing would be far trickier if the C.I.A. methods were demonstrated to have been crucial in disrupting major plots.

For both sides, the political stakes are high, as proposals for a national commission to unravel the interrogation story appear to be gaining momentum. Mr. Obama and his allies need to discredit the techniques he has banned. Otherwise, in the event of a future terrorist attack, critics may blame his decision to rein in C.I.A. interrogators.

But if a strong case emerges that the Bush administration authorized torture and got nothing but prisoners’ desperate fabrications in return, that will tarnish what Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have claimed as their greatest achievement: preventing new attacks after Sept. 11, 2001.

...

That assessment stands in sharp contrast to many assertions by Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who on Fox News on Sunday said of the methods: “They did work. They kept us safe for seven years.”

Four successive C.I.A. directors have made similar claims, and the most recent, Michael V. Hayden, said in January that he believed the methods “got the maximum amount of information” from prisoners, citing specifically Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief 9/11 plotter.

Many intelligence officials, including some opposed to the brutal methods, confirm that the program produced information of great value, including tips on early-stage schemes to attack tall buildings on the West Coast and buildings in New York’s financial district and Washington. Interrogation of one Qaeda operative led to tips on finding others, until the leadership of the organization was decimated. Removing from the scene such dedicated and skilled plotters as Mr. Mohammed, or the Indonesian terrorist known as Hambali, almost certainly prevented future attacks.

...
The fact that Cheney is not cowering from the confrontation suggest he is right about what came from the interrogation. The fact that the Obama administration tried to edit out what was uncovered by the interrogation suggest they want to avoid that subject.

The Obama position appears to be one based on moral preening more than judgment about the efficacy of the interrogations. Then you have Pat Leahy who thinks he is above the law on national security issues like secrecy, pretending his is searching for the "truth" when it is clear he is searching for witches to burn.

People who acted with patriotic motives are being maligned by people who want to send lawyers after the enemy rather than fighters. They conveniently forget the failure of lawfare under the Clinton administration is what led to 9-11.

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