So, there's this article in the New York Times, "Banned Techniques Yielded 'High Value Information,' Memo Says," which reports that President Obama's National Intelligence Director, Adm. Dennis C. Blair, "told colleagues in a private memo last week that the harsh interrogation techniques banned by the White House did produce significant information that helped the nation in its struggle with terrorists."
And from there, I'm just going to turn it over to my pal Steve, who makes precisely the same point I would but niftily saves me the bother of putting words and punctuation together myself to make it:
"A ha!" conservatives say. "The White House is dropping an effective interrogation policy! The president's own intelligence director admitted it! Take that, liberals!"Of course, letting facts get in the way of manufactured outrage has never been a problem for our friends across the aisle. Today will be no different. And forever will conservatives believe, and tell the tale for generations, that even Obama's own director of national intelligence said that torture works.
This is one of those instances in which reading the rest of the article is worthwhile.
We learned from the same report that Adm. Blair, had he been in a position of authority when these interrogation techniques were approved, "would not have approved those methods." Got that? He knows the abuse led to some "high value information," but despite this, Blair still would have rejected the tactics.
And why is that?
"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means," Admiral Blair said in a written statement issued last night. "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."This is the point at which those overly-excited conservative slink away. The source of their excitement believes the abuse they're so fond of was not only unnecessary, but also proved counterproductive to our interests.
For me, the most important takeaway from what Blair said is this: "There is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means." Implicit in that statement is the admission that we turned to torture before exhausting every other conceivable strategy for extracting information from detainees, and, if I had to guess, we likely tried nothing else before going straight to torture. Our policy appears to have been based on every interrogator treating every detainee as if there's a bomb about to go off in the middle of Times Square.
Which puts me in mind of this passage from, of all things, an article about my boyfriend Matt Damon:
"Look, the best line about torture I've heard came from [retired CIA officer turned war-on-terrorism critic] Milt Beardon," Damon says. "He said, 'If a guy knows where a dirty bomb is hidden that's going to go off in a Marriott, put me in a room with him and I'll find out. But don't codify that. Just let me break the law'."Yeah. And the reason Beardon says that is because he knows what an extraordinary situation that really is. It's not the norm, despite the former administration's apparent insistence to the contrary.