Shortly after President Obama announced that U.S. military forces killed Osama bin Laden, former CIA Director Michael Hayden tried to downplay Obama’s achievement, saying that “any American president” would’ve made the same choice. However, the evidence doesn’t necessarily support this theory and even Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who has worked for numerous American presidents since LBJ — called Obama’s decision to get bin Landen “one of the most courageous calls I’ve ever seen a president make.”
Hayden is back at it today in the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed pages, this time weighing in on whether torturing terror detainees is responsible for getting info on bin Laden’s whereabouts. Of course he thinks this is the case, but this time he went a step further in the hyperbole, claiming than those who deny that torture “yielded useful intelligence” are no different than those who think 9/11 was in inside job or that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.:
For all of its well-deserved reputation for pragmatism, American popular culture frequently nurtures or at least tolerates preposterous views and theories. Witness the 9/11 “truthers” who, lacking any evidence whatsoever, claim that 9/11 was a Bush administration plot. And then we have the “birthers” who, even in the face of clear contrary evidence, take as an article of faith that President Obama was not born in the United States and hence is not eligible to hold his current office.
Let me add a third denomination to this faith-based constellation: interrogation deniers, i.e., individuals who hold that the enhanced interrogation techniques used against CIA detainees have never yielded useful intelligence.
This is a strawman. No one is saying that torture won’t at least lead to some information. Indeed, Glenn Carle — a former CIA Directorate of Operations who for a time led the interrogation of a high value detainee — said “it is possible that a specific piece of information from time to time would come from” using these so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. But, “Does it justify using them?” he asked, “A categorical flat no.”
But while torture and EITs may yield something useful, they’re more trouble than they’re worth as Matthew Alexander, the interrogator responsible for getting information that led to al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, noted recently:
What torture has proven is exactly what experienced interrogators have said all along: First, when tortured, detainees will give only the minimum amount of information necessary to stop the pain. No interrogator should ever be hoping to extract the least amount of information. Second, under coercion, detainees give misleading information that wastes time and resources.
Carle agrees with this sentiment. “Almost all the information obtained from EITs was recalled…because it was viewed as unreliable,” he said in an interview with ThinkProgress last month.
But halfway through his op-ed, Hayden shifts his argument from *torture gets information* to *torture led to bin Laden.* What’s his proof? That detainees who were waterboarded in CIA custody gave up false information.
Putting that odd reasoning aside, there is no evidence to support the claim that torture or EITs were responsible for getting bin Laden. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey tried to go down this road too but his arguments were thoroughly debunked. “The people who say ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ directly led to catching Bin Laden are wrong,” said one unnamed former high-level CIA official recently.
And finally, there’s that whole issue of moral superiority. While “it’s impossible to know what information the detainee would have disclosed under non-coercive interrogations,” as Alexander noted, he asked, “Why are we having a discussion about efficacy?” “Torture is wrong,” he said, adding that “it’s a moral issue…and it’s a legal issue.”