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Torture saved L.A.?

April 28, 2009 - Jim Anderson
Did waterboarding avert a planned terrorist attack on Los Angeles?

Some former Bush administration officials, including former vice president Dick Cheney, say that the use of tactics such as waterboarding was justified because it headed off possible attacks. A number of people are now saying that a planned attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles was thwarted by harsh interrogations of al Qaeda’s Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah.

But there are contradictions. The Bush White House had claimed the plot (apparently never close to fruition) was derailed in early 2002 — the year before Mohammed was captured and before the harsh CIA interrogation measures were approved.

Late last year, FBI Director Robert Mueller said in a magazine interview that he didn’t believe that intelligence gleaned from abusive interrogation techniques had disrupted any attacks on America.

McClatchy Newspapers, citing declassified Justice Department memos, reported Saturday that the CIA inspector general in 2004 found no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh techniques helped thwart any “specific imminent attacks.” However, that same official, Steven G. Bradbury, also concluded that the program had been effective., meanwhile, says the CIA stands by an assertion made in a May 30, 2005, Justice Department memo that the use of “enhanced techniques” of interrogation on Mohammed — including the use of waterboarding — caused him to reveal information that allowed the U.S. government to thwart a planned attack on Los Angeles.

The debate — and contradictions — will go on. Eventually, we may get a better answer on whether waterboarding prevented an attack on L.A.

A larger question may never be answered. That is, the degree to which the Bush administration’s attempt to loosen torture restrictions was counter-productive, particularly in its supervision of military interrogations in Iraq.

Did it help create more Islamic terrorists than it broke? According to a recent Senate Armed Services Committee report, some of those in the military who developed enhanced techniques warned that the information they produced was less reliable than that gained by traditional psychological measures.

And critics of abuses, including many within the military itself, say that extremism breeds extremism. In the end, what was the value of our “enhanced interrogations” in Iraq?

Torture, yes, might “work.” But that’s only the beginning of the moral and practical judgments to be made, not the end.


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