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Six Facts About Torture That Dick Cheney Doesn't Want You to Know

Updated on March 17, 2015
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Jeff is a computer professional who takes a great interest in politics and tries to always distinguish fact from opinion.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney justified the use of "enhanced interrogation" based on memoranda from the Justice Department that were later commonly known as the "Torture Memos".
President Bush and Vice President Cheney justified the use of "enhanced interrogation" based on memoranda from the Justice Department that were later commonly known as the "Torture Memos". | Source

On December 10, 2014, the U.S. Senate released a report detailing the United States' enhanced interrogation program used during the Bush presidency. The release of this report has stirred up controversy because it revealed that our government’s use of torture was far more extensive than we had been previously told. One of the report's conclusions was that the use of torture yielded very little useful information and may have actually had the opposite effect, causing detainees to stop providing valuable information.

All of this has renewed the discussion about whether the United States should use torture - under the name of "enhanced interrogation" - to get information from suspected terrorists.

Let’s examine the practical reasons for and against torture, setting aside for now any discussion of the moral and ethical issues involved.

1. Torture Does Not Yield Accurate Information

Professional interrogators in the FBI and our armed forces have known for many years that torture is an ineffective means of getting accurate information. They tend to hold the opinion that torture – inflicting pain, suffering or fear of death – seldom yields truthful answers. People will say anything to stop the torture but the information that results from this type of interrogation is notoriously unreliable.

According to interrogation experts, the most effective way to get information from a suspect – even a hostile one – is to talk to them and build a rapport with them over an extended period of time. Over time, they will be more likely to give you truthful information. Torture, on the other hand, is often successful for achieving one specific goal. That is, to get someone to confess to something they did not do.

Senator John McCain, who was extensively tortured as a POW in Vietnam, strongly opposes "enhanced interrogation" of terrorist suspects.
Senator John McCain, who was extensively tortured as a POW in Vietnam, strongly opposes "enhanced interrogation" of terrorist suspects.

Case in point, when Senator John McCain was taken prisoner during the Viet Nam War, he was repeatedly tortured by his captors in order to obtain any useful information. He answered his interrogators’ questions just to get the torture to stop, but much of the information he gave them was false. Yet McCain admits that they did ultimately break him. Through the use of torture, they got him to confess to being a war criminal and to denounce his country on videotape. So in McCain’s case, torture did not yield good information for his captors but it did succeed in getting a false confession - which appears to be the only thing torture is good for.

2. What About The “Ticking Time Bomb” Scenario?

Some people argue that using harsh interrogation methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and hypothermia could help us save lives if an imminent attack is about to occur. If there is literally a ticking time bomb somewhere, we would need to get answers fast, and torture is surely one way to get answers in a hurry.

The only problem is experience has shown us that this does not yield good information. Even our own evaluation of the enhanced interrogation program concluded that using these methods did not result in the disruption of any terrorist plots. The Senate report on torture concluded that torture did not give the government any information that could not be obtained by other means.

Waterboarding is a painful form of torture, involving water poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience drowning.
Waterboarding is a painful form of torture, involving water poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience drowning. | Source

3. Didn't Torture Help Us Catch or Kill More Terrorists?

The argument has been made that the “enhanced interrogation” of terrorists like Abu Zubaydah and Kalid Sheik Mohammed eventually produced important information that was used to kill or capture other terrorists.

In the years after 9/11, terrorists like Kalid Sheik Mohammed were proud to admit their accomplishments and were willing to talk publicly about their activities. After we captured these terrorists, interrogators using standard interrogation methods were, over time, able to extract a surprising amount of information.

Former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, who questioned al Qaeda terrorist Abu Zubaydah, told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that the most valuable information gained from interrogating Zubaydah was not produced using waterboarding or other harsh methods, rather it was his use of standard interrogation methods that yielded the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attack. But when the CIA's contractors used “enhanced interrogation”, including waterboarding, Zubaydah stopped talking.

For more information about Ali Soufan and his experiences interrogating terrorist suspects, see this article from CBS News:

9/11 Mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammad after his capture.
9/11 Mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammad after his capture.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the admitted mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, was subjected to multiple types of brutality including 183 instances of waterboarding during his interrogations. Considering the massive crime he is responsible for, it is difficult to feel compassion for this man. Yet the torture he was subjected to apparently did not produce the kind of valuable information his interrogators had hoped for.

We now know that under the duress of water boarding, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to some things that he could not possibly have done since he could not have been in two places at the same time. This cast doubt about the validity of any of the information obtained using these methods.

Ultimately, the information obtained through waterboarding or other “enhanced interrogation methods” proved to be far less reliable and less helpful than information obtained from normal interrogation methods.

4. Our Use of Torture Will Cause More Americans to Die

Aside from the fact that it produces notoriously bad information, there are several other issues we need to take into consideration.

When we use waterboarding to obtain intelligence, we are clearly telling the rest of the world, including our enemies, that torture is an effective and acceptable means to gain information. This greatly increases the likelihood that American POWs will be tortured in future wars.

It’s well known that at the end of World War II soldiers from Germany and Japan fled toward the advancing American forces in order to surrender to American troops rather than to the Soviet forces because they knew Americans treated their prisoners better than the Russians did. German soldiers faced with the advancing Red Army were more inclined to fight to the death rather than surrender to the Russians.

When our enemies choose to surrender rather than fight to the death, it results in fewer American casualties. But if America has a reputation for torturing our prisoners, it’s reasonable to conclude that our enemies will be less likely to surrender and more likely to fight to the death. This will undoubtedly lead to more American fatalities.

5. Use of Torture Will Allow More Terrorist Suspects to Go Free

Perhaps equally important, torture is illegal in all circumstances according to U.S. law, international law, multiple treaties, the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution. After World War II the United States prosecuted Japanese soldiers for war crimes because they used the exact same interrogation methods that we later used against terrorist suspects during the Bush presidency.

The fact is, information obtained through torture is not admissible in court. As a result, it is much more difficult to prosecute terrorist suspects. Judges are often required to set suspects free if the evidence against them is tainted by the use of torture.

6. By Torturing Suspects, We Create More Terrorists

The Senate report on torture revealed that at least 26 people (and probably many more) were wrongly held by the CIA for months or years before being released. In some cases, people were detained simply because another detainee gave up the name of some random person they knew just to get the torture to stop. After a lengthy detention and repeated interrogation, these suspects were eventually let go..

Imagine for a moment that you have done nothing wrong but you've been held captive by foreign soldiers in your country who kept you isolated from your family and friends for months or years while you are physically abused in order to determine if you are a terrorist.

Then, after it is finally determined that you are not a terrorist and pose no threat, you are released. One would hope that you at least received some sort of apology, "Oops, our bad. Sorry about the torture. You're free to go now." If you didn't hate the people who detained you before, you sure do now.

It seems highly probable that detainees mistreated in this way would be far more likely to side with the terrorists after being subjected to this brutal treatment.

In the end, there are a great many moral and ethical reasons to oppose the use of torture against terrorist suspects, but just from a real-world perspective, any "enhanced interrogation" methods that involve physical pain, endangerment or the threat of death are counter-productive.

As a practical matter, it would be hard to find any good reasons to justify the use of “enhanced interrogation”.

Here are several links to articles that give greater detail about America's torture program.

Here is a BBC documentary about enhanced interrogation. Warning: This is explicit video.


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      Tim 3 years ago

      This is a good fact-based summary and makes a lot of sense. I like the fact that you don't dwell on the moral or ethical issues of torture and you don't take personal shots at Bush or Cheney. Still, it makes a strong argument why not to use torture.