On his radio show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh responded to the Obama administration’s release of four of the OLC torture memos with a full-throated defense of of torture and its effectiveness for gathering useful intelligence. As evidence of the effectiveness of torture, Limbaugh noted that — in his speech to the Republican National Convention last summer — Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said the North Vietnamese “broke” him while he was a POW. Limbaugh suggested that in saying the North Vietnamese “broke” him, McCain was saying that torture worked:
LIMBAUGH: The idea that torture doesn’t work– that’s been put out from John McCain on down– You know, for the longest time McCain said torture doesn’t work then he admitted in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last summer that he was broken by North Vietnamese. So what are we to think here?
This is not the first time Limbaugh has claimed that McCain’s remarks about his experience with torture proves its effectiveness. But just like the last time, Limbaugh is wrong.
With regard to his speech to the RNC, McCain explained that after refusing an offer of early release, North Vietnamese soldiers “worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me.” While McCain did not go in to detail during his speech, he explained in his memoir Faith of my Fathers that the information he gave the Vietnamese after being “broken” was out of date, fabricated, or of little use to his captors:
Eventually, I gave them my ship’s name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant. Pressed for more useful information, I gave the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line, and said they were members of my squadron. When asked to identify future targets, I simply recited the names of a number of North Vietnamese cities that had already been bombed.
Elsewhere in his memoir, McCain recalled providing false information to his captors on multiple occasions in order to “suspend the abuse.” Further, McCain explained in a 2005 Newsweek column that he believed torture would yield little actionable intelligence. “In my experience, abuse of prisoners often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear — whether it is true or false — if he believes it will relieve his suffering,” McCain wrote.
McCain was right. As the Washington Post reported last month, the torture of Abu Zubaydah — who was once thought to be a high-level AQI operative — did not foil “a single significant plot” and provided the CIA with a number of “false leads.” “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms,” one former intelligence official told the Post. Further, “most of the useful information from Abu Zubaydah — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced.”
Media Matters notes that at another point during his program yesterday, Limbaugh began slapping himself to mock anyone who believed slapping detainees in U.S. custody qualified as mistreatment. “I just slapped myself. I’m torturing myself right now. That’s torture according to these people,” Limbaugh said.