Same people defending torture’ ignored 9/11 warnings

Marc A. Thiessen, President Bush’s former speechwriter, is defending torture in the Washington Post. Apparently, this is the level of clout Dick Cheney and George Bush have, when the only people out defending them are speechwriters and people who are implicated in torture.

Here is what Mr. Thiessen writes:

In releasing highly classified documents on the CIA interrogation program last week, President Obama declared that the techniques used to question captured terrorists “did not make us safer.” This is patently false. The proof is in the memos Obama made public — in sections that have gone virtually unreported in the media.

Right. The reason the section Mr. Thiessen cites has gone underreported is because it is written by the same fabulists within the DOJ who authored legal permission that gave the Executive Branch all but-dictatorial power. Plus, if Mr. Thiessen had actually ever read a CIA brief of any sort, he would understand how laughable his argument is. Here is the part of the DOJ memo he cites, which claims the CIA credits torture with keeping us safe since the attacks of September 11, 2001:

Consider the Justice Department memo of May 30, 2005. It notes that “the CIA believes ‘the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001. . . . In particular, the CIA believes that it would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques.” The memo continues: “Before the CIA used enhanced techniques . . . KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, ‘Soon you will find out.’ ” Once the techniques were applied, “interrogations have led to specific, actionable intelligence, as well as a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

This is like a bad science experiment on how to best pretend that reality does not exist. I don’t know where to begin with this nonsense. Obviously claims that KSM is a success story are idiotic – not because KSM is innocent, no he is absolutely a terrorist. But because any expert will tell you that torture does not provide actionable intelligence. Don’t take my word for it. Call on any expert from the FBI to the CIA and ask them if torture works. Really, go ahead. In addition to this glaring problem, because this is not something that any expert would say, there is also the following – now pay close attention to this sentence:

the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001

That is absurd. No CIA analyst would ever make such a broad claim, because this is an unknown. You cannot possibly know what was planned in every corner of the world and what failed for reasons US intelligence had no control over. CIA analysis is always measured, from everything I have ever read and seen. It is almost as though the people at DOJ authoring these claims need someone to take responsibility for these assertions, a sort of get out jail card should these memos see the light of day.

In addition, no one from the CIA (without pressure from the OVP) would argue that torture has made us safer. Why? For two reasons:

First, the meme that torture makes us safer is completely false, based on the reality we have lived through. Consider the far more important memo authored by the CIA and dated August 6, 2001, which is titled Osama Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States.

This particular memo included the concerns that planes would be used and flown into buildings in the period that included September 11, 2001. The very panicky nature of this PDB (Presidential Daily Brief) should have raised an alarm from one end of the White House to the other. But it did not. Why? This is something perhaps Mr. Thiessen can also speculate about. I have no answers for this type of negligence.

Moreover, the key factor here is that we did not torture anyone to get this intelligence. It came in through good-old fashioned warnings from various countries, including Russia and Israel, as well as good old-fashioned intelligence collection and analysis. The CIA did their job and delivered their concerns. So what failed? What made us unsafe? Clearly torture (or lack there of) had nothing to do with the “spectacular” failure of the Bush administration to stop the September 11 attacks. Nearly every nation on the planet lined up to help us after the attacks on this nation; even Iran reached out. Why would the CIA argue that what worked prior to 9/11 and surely would have worked just as well, if not better – given the world response to our tragedy – claim that torture worked and was somehow needed to prevent future attacks? Why?

Second, the other and broader issue is that we did not just torture KSM. We tortured many innocents whom we later let go. There is NO ONE, no one I have talked to from the Agency, past and present, who agrees with the torture policy of the Bush-Cheney years. There are plenty of retired spooks. Why is no one out defending these tactics if they proved to be such successes? Where are all the spooks? Surely someone who is now retired can put their name to a pro-torture argument, no? The reason no one will do so is because they do not agree with this policy and they do not agree with this policy, first, because it provides no actionable intelligence and second, because it is immoral.

So then who in the CIA would tell the DOJ that these tactics work? Who? Aside from the DOJ document, who in the CIA would have put their name – even on an internal memo – to this nonsense (illegal nonsense at that)?

In the end, all of this propaganda and it is entirely propaganda (again, find me one former CIA officer willing to support this argument) – the very same people who are out defending torture as a necessary tool in their falsely constructed “war on terror” are the very same people who had the intelligence to stop the 9/11 attacks literally delivered to them and did nothing. These people who ignored multiple and various warnings from the CIA, foreign governments, and so forth, did nothing and that intelligence was obtained without the use of torture. Yet these very same people are arguing that the only way to stop terrorism is through the torture of suspects?

Former DCI Michael Hayden does not even argue that torture works. His concern is that the release of the memos exposes our methods to enemies. Then again, Mr. Hayden was the head of the NSA when it failed to do its job, not because it did not have warrantless wiretaps as a tool and carte blanche over domestic spying on US citizens. The reason the NSA failed was once again the result of human error:

Conversations intercepted the day before Sept. 11 caught al-Qaeda operatives boasting in Arabic, “The match begins tomorrow” and “Tomorrow is Zero Hour.” But U.S. intelligence didn’t translate them until Sept. 12, congressional and administration sources disclosed Wednesday. The failure of the National Security Agency to translate the conversations until the day after the terrorist attacks became the focus of an eight-hour closed hearing on Capitol Hill. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, head of the NSA, and CIA Director George Tenet told a House-Senate investigative committee that the intercepted communications were too vague to be of use, according to officials familiar with their testimony.

Again, the tools worked. No extra powers to the Executive Branch were needed. No additional surveillance of Americans was needed. It was entirely a human failure.

All of these abuses, from torture to illegal wiretapping of US citizens, were never needed to stop terrorism. Because without these “tools,” the US was able to produce immediate and actionable intelligence before the September 11 attacks. These abuses of power cannot and should not be argued as necessary to have kept this nation safe, and certainly not by the very people who failed to do so.

We are not made safer by condoning illegal, criminal and immoral behavior for which we have prosecuted people the world over. To believe that is to believe something else that Mr. Thiessen wrote:

Like Truman at the start of the Cold War, Mr. Bush set our nation’s course at the start of a new and unprecedented war. And like Truman, he responded by laying out a clear doctrine to guide America through the conflict. Mr. Bush created the institutions necessary to prevail in this struggle. He created the Department of Homeland Security and a new director of national intelligence. He transformed the FBI and the Justice Department to fight terror. He established new military commands. And he transformed NATO from a defensive alliance into an expeditionary alliance that is now leading the fight in Afghanistan.

You see, a mind that can argue the above is not a mind with any sense of decency or truth. Ideology, hero-worship (misplaced obviously), and whatever else Mr. Thiessen suffers from, he is nowhere near credible. But this appears to be the best the Bush administration and other torture apologists can come up with. Thiessen. How horrible for them. Surely Donald Rumsfeld could have authored something on his former boss’s behalf? Not hardly. He is busy praying that Germany and Italy won’t indict him for war crimes.