Did torture help track down and kill Osama Bin Laden the way the right-wingers are claiming? Matthew Alexander, former senior military interrogator in Iraq, who participated in over 1,300 interrogations, says no.
In fact, he says, torture was harmful to the process and to the country in multiple ways:
His main points:
1. People lie under torture, and cause false leads to be followed.
One of the things that people aren’t talking about is the fact that one of the people that was confronted with this information that bin Laden had a courier is Sheikh al-Libi, who was held in a CIA secret prison and was tortured and who gave his CIA interrogators the name of the courier as being Maulawi Jan. And the CIA chased down that information and found out that person didn’t exist, that al-Libi had lied. And nobody is talking about the fact that al-Libi caused us to waste resources and time by chasing a false lead because he was tortured.
2. People who have the information don't give it up under torture.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed certainly knew the real name of the courier, whose nom de guerre or nickname was Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. But Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had to have known his real name or at least how to find him, a location that we might look, but he never gave up that information.
3. Torture makes people more resistant to giving up the information they have.
[W]hen you look at the use of waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques in the case of the trail of evidence that leads to Osama bin Laden, what you find is, time and time again, it slows down the chase. In 2003, when we—or '02, when we have Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we have the person most likely to be able to lead us to bin Laden, and yet we don't get to him until 2011. You know, by any interrogation standard, eight years is a long time to not get information from people, and that’s probably directly related to the fact that he was waterboarded 183 times.
4. Traditional rapport-based interrogation techniques are more effective.
I was a senior interrogator in charge of an interrogation team. I conducted quite a few interrogations myself, over 300... And what I found is...that non-coercive techniques, time and time again, proved extremely effective against al-Qaeda, especially techniques that came from law enforcement that were based on rapport building.
5. Wrong or incomplete information leads to actions that create blowback.
[O]ver half the houses we raided in Iraq were the wrong house, because we were acting on very small intelligence tips that we didn’t have time to flesh out and get the detailed information that we needed to ensure we’re going to the right house....[W]e weren’t paying compensation or issuing apologies to the head of households when we raided these wrong houses....I believed very strongly that if we didn’t do that, we were going to end up creating more enemies than we were taking off the streets.
6. Torture doesn't work, plus it's immoral, illegal, and un-American.
I don’t torture because it doesn’t work. I don’t torture, because it’s immoral, and it’s against the law, and it’s inconsistent with my oath of office, in which I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. And it’s also inconsistent with American principles....
You know, if torture did work and we could say it worked 100 percent of the time, I still wouldn’t use it. The U.S. Army Infantry, when it goes out into battle and it faces resistance, it doesn’t come back and ask for the permission to use chemical weapons. I mean, chemical weapons are extremely effective—we could say almost 100 percent effective. And yet, we don’t use them. But we make this—carve out this special space for interrogators and say that, well, they’re different, so they can violate the laws of war if they face obstacles.
7. Torture was al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool.
When I was in Iraq, I oversaw the interrogations of foreign fighters. And those foreign fighters, the majority of them, said, time and time again, the reason they had come to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse of detainees at both Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. And this is not my opinion. The Department of Defense tracked these statistics. And they were briefed, every interrogator who arrived there, that torture and abuse was al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool.
And remember, these foreign fighters that came to Iraq, they made up 90 percent of the suicide bombers. They killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers.
8. Americans will now be subjected to these techniques in future.
[F]uture Americans are going to be subjected to the same techniques by future enemies using our own actions as justification.
9. Torture is counterproductive to America's real goals in the war on terror.
[W]hat’s our ultimate national security goal here? It’s not to stop terrorist attacks. We cannot defeat al-Qaeda, we cannot defeat violent extremism, by stopping terrorist attacks. That’s an endless game of hide-and-go-seek. What we have to do is stop terrorist recruitment. That’s the only way to put an end to al-Qaeda, is when they can no longer recruit fresh fighters. That’s been the downfall of numerous terrorist organizations. And when our policies help our enemies to recruit, we end up losing in the long run. So, this policy of torture and abuse, what it did is it helped al-Qaeda recruit, it lowered our moral standing in the world, it sacrificed our principles, and ultimately it cost us more time to find bin Laden, and it will take us longer to defeat violent extremism.
That's the way to answer the wingnuts who love the idea of torturing America's enemies. Give them both barrels, on all fronts, and don't concede that anything at all was or could be gained by their grotesque flouting of the law and of basic standards of human decency.