Echoing Bush, right-wing media advance disputed claim that waterboarding "saved lives"

››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

Following the release of former President George W. Bush's book Decision Points, right-wing media are promoting Bush's claim that waterboarding "saved lives." But this claim is disputed by intelligence experts, including former British officials who have "cast doubt" on Bush's waterboarding claims.

Right-wing media rush to defend waterboarding as having "saved lives"

Kilmeade: "If you watch [KSM] in court, the results saved lives. ... I'm amazed at the ... sanctimonious tone [Lauer] took last night" in questioning Bush about the procedure. On the November 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade reacted to an interview between Bush and NBC host Matt Lauer by promoting Bush's claim that waterboarding "saved lives":

KILMEADE: You don't understand, it's -- he asked his lawyers, can I do this? He goes and does it; he says I have no regrets.

[...]

He's proud of it, because at the end of the day, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed ended up on a chalkboard outlining where and how the whole hierarchy of Al Qaida ends up. He's 100 percent today. If you watch him in court, Abu Zubaydah, and there's just one other guy that's been waterboarded. The results saved lives, stopped attacks, and I'm amazed at the sactimonious -- sanctimonious tone that Matt Lauer took last night and that others will.

Co-host Steve Doocy characterized the interview by claiming that "Matt Lauer did his as best acting as a prosecutor trying to take a look at some of the things that happened during the Bush administration."

Kilmeade on Bush's waterboarding claims: "George W. Bush telling his critics who's boss." Later on Fox & Friends, Kilmeade called Bush's comments, "President George W. Bush telling his critics who's boss." After playing Bush's statement that waterboarding "saved lives," Kilmeade said, "That's one of the things he's most proud of."

Kilmeade: "I challenge anyone to say we'd be better off without knowing" information obtained through waterboarding. Later on Fox & Friends, Kilmeade further promoted Bush's claim, saying that "there's really three people that were waterboarded: this Hambali guy [Riduan Isamuddin], [Abu] Zubaydah, as well as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. ... And the results that they gave, I challenge anyone to say we'd be better off without knowing that. And all three of those people are alive today and having no after-effects." Hambali was not known to have been waterboarded; Kilmeade presumably meant Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was the third confirmed victim of waterboarding. Guest-host and former White House press secretary Dana Perino claimed, "The information that" waterboarded prisoners "provided helped prevent attacks, and the president talks a lot about that in his book."

Human Events: "Many people are alive today because George W. Bush" pushed waterboarding, adding "God help us if another such moment arrives before 2012." In a November 11 Human Events article, John Hayward pushed the claim made by Bush in his book Decision Points "that the procedure was 'highly effective,' resulted in 'no lasting harm,' and produced intelligence that saved lives. Waterboarding broke al-Qaeda cave-troll Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who spilled vital information about planned biological warfare attacks." Hayward concluded by claiming: "Sweeping these tactics off the table means gambling with countless innocent lives. Many people are alive today because George W. Bush was the President when the decision point for waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his associates was reached. God help us if another such moment arrives before 2012."

The Blaze: "Bush: 'Damn Right' I Approved Waterboarding." A November 5 Blaze post titled, "Bush: 'Damn Right' I Approved Waterboarding," stated: "Though many have condemned the George W. Bush administration's use of so-called 'enhanced' interrogation techniques to extract sensitive intelligence to aid the United States' war on terror, the former president's new memoir makes clear his unapologetic approval of the method."

Big Government: "Through the use of" waterboarding, "our government learned of additional terrorist plots against the US." In a November 5 Big Government post, Jeff Dunetz wrote: "For years, the left has been screaming for an investigation to determine who approved the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) against Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Through the use of those techniques our government learned of additional terrorist plots against the US and other western targets potentially saving thousands of innocent lives." Dunetz posted reporting from Bush's book and claimed, "According to the Washington Post that use of waterboarding saved American lives."

British official doubts Bush's claims about waterboarding

Former Commons intelligence and security committee chair reportedly "cast doubt on Bush's claim that it helped saved British lives." A November 9 U.K. Guardian article reported that "[t]he former chair of the Commons intelligence and security committee, Kim Howells, cast doubt on Bush's claim that it had helped save British lives. 'We are not convinced,' said the Labour MP." The article added:

The claim that waterboarding prevented London attacks was challenged by Howells, [sic]. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there had been and still were "real plots", but added that "we're not convinced" that waterboarding produced information which was "instrumental in preventing these plots coming to fruition and murdering people".

Howells said Bush was trying to "justify what he did to the world", a viewpoint echoed by the former shadow home secretary David Davis.

Davis told Today that although security information provided from abroad would have to be used regardless of how it was obtained, torture did not work and should be discouraged.

"People under torture tell you what you want to hear," he said. "You'll get the wrong information and ... apart from being immoral, apart from destroying our standing in the world, and apart from undermining the way of life we're trying to defend, it actually doesn't deliver."

Former Tory shadow home secretary highlighted the dangers of false intelligence that comes from waterboarding. Responding to Bush's claims, the BBC reported that former Tory shadow home secretary David Davis "said a large part of the false intelligence on WMD that led to the war in Iraq came from torture and illegal rendition." According to the BBC, Davis added:

"That's the problem - people under torture tell you what what you want to hear. Apart from being immoral, apart from destroying our standing in the world... it doesn't deliver."

In October, the head of MI6 Sir John Sawers said torture was "illegal and abhorrent under any circumstances and we have nothing whatsoever to do with it".

He outlined the "real, constant operational dilemmas" faced by his organisation in trying to avoid intelligence gathered by torture.

He said: "If we know or believe action by us will lead to torture taking place, we're required by UK and international law to avoid that action, and we do, even though that allows that terrorist activity to go ahead.

OPR concluded Bush legal advisers "engaged in professional misconduct" in EIT recommendations

OPR: Bush attorneys "engaged in professional misconduct by failing to provide 'thorough, candid, and objective' analysis" regarding "enhanced interrogation techniques." In July 2009, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) issued a report concluding that "former Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee engaged in professional misconduct by failing to provide 'thorough, candid, and objective' analysis in memoranda regarding the interrogation of detained terrorist suspects." According to a January Defense Department Memo, "In its final analysis, OPR found that John Yoo intentionally violated his 'duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective, and candid legal advice' with respect to five documents," which included Yoo's legal interpretation of the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques." As The Washington Post reported, "The Justice Department memos, which date to 2002, gave legal blessing to slapping, cramped confinement, sleep deprivation and simulated drowning of terrorism suspects." The Washington Post also reported that "[Associate Deputy Attorney General David] Margolis concluded that despite significant flaws in the documents, the memo authors did not intentionally violate ethics rules."

CIA Inspector General report repeatedly describes difficulties in assessing effectiveness of EITs

IG report: "The effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured." From the "conclusions" section of the 2004 CIA Inspector General report on "Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities":

The Agency's detention and interrogation of terrorists has provided intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists and warned of terrorist plots planned for the United States and around the world. The CTC Detention and Interrogation Program has resulted in the issuance of thousands of individual intelligence reports and analytic products supporting the counterterrorism efforts of U.S. policymakers and military commanders. The effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured.

IG report: "[T]here is limited data on which to assess [EITs'] individual effectiveness." From the IG report:

Inasmuch as EITs have been used only since August 2002, and they have not all been used with every high value detainee, there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness. This Review indentified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances, and whether the fact that it is being applied in a manner different from its use in SERE training brings into question the continued applicability of the DoJ opinion to its use. Although the waterboard is the most intrusive of the EITs, the fact that precautions have been taken to provide on-site medical oversight in the use of all EITs is evidence that their use poses risks.

IG report details reasons why "[m]easuring the overall effectiveness of EITs is challenging." From the IG report:

Determining the effectiveness of each EIT is important in facilitating Agency management's decision as to which techniques should be used and for how long. Measuring the overall effectiveness of EITs is challenging for a number of reasons including: (1) the Agency cannot determine with any certainty the totality of the intelligence the detainee actually possesses; (2) each detainee has different fears of and tolerance for EITs; (3) the application of the same EITs by different interrogators may have different results; and [REDACTED]

IG report: "Some participants" in CIA program judged that assessments that "detainees are withholding information are not always supported by an objective evaluation." From the IG report:

Agency officers report that reliance on analytical assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence may have resulted in the application of EITs without justification. Some participants in the Program, particularly field interrogators, judge that CTC assessments to the effect that detainees are withholding information are not always supported by an objective evaluation of available information and the evaluation of the interrogators but are too heavily based, instead, on presumptions of what the individual might or should know.

Separate CIA reports on the intelligence detainees provided do not discuss the effectiveness of interrogation techniques. As The New York Times noted, the partially declassified CIA memos on "Khalid Shaykh Muhammad: Preeminent Source on Al-Qa'ida" and "Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against Al-Qa'ida," do not contain reference "to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness."

Numerous media outlets have noted that CIA reports do not prove that enhanced interrogation techniques were effective

Salon's Greenwald: It is "patently clear" that CIA reports don't back claims about effectiveness of EITs. From Glenn Greenwald's August 29, 2009, blog post on Salon.com (emphasis in original):

That the released documents provide no support for Cheney's claims was so patently clear that many news articles contained unusually definitive statements reporting that to be so. The New York Times reported that the documents Cheney claimed proved his case "do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness." ABC News noted that "the visible portions of the heavily redacted reports do not indicate whether such information was obtained as a result of controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding." TPM's Zachary Roth documented that "nowhere do they suggest that that information was gleaned through torture," while The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman detailed that, if anything, the documents prove "that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information the documents cite in defending the value of the CIA's interrogations."

ABC says reports "do not indicate whether such information was obtained as a result of controversial interrogation techniques." In an August 25, 2009, article, ABCNews.com reported that the CIA had released two memos that "former Vice President Dick Cheney requested earlier this year in an attempt to prove his assertion that using enhanced interrogation techniques on terror detainees saved U.S. lives." The article added that the "documents back up the Bush administration's claims that intelligence gleaned from captured terror suspects had thwarted terrorist attacks, but the visible portions of the heavily redacted reports do not indicate whether such information was obtained as a result of controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding."

Newsweek: The "newly declassified material does not convincingly demonstrate" that EITs "produced ... useful information." In an August 25, 2009, article, Newsweek reported that the CIA reports show that "the CIA's interrogations of suspected terrorists provided U.S. authorities with precious inside information about Al Qaeda's leadership, structure, personnel, and operations." However, the article added that "the newly declassified material does not convincingly demonstrate" that "the agency's use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' -- including sleep deprivation, stress positions, violent physical contact, and waterboarding" was what "produced this useful information. In fact, though two of the newly released CIA reports offer examples of the kind of details that detainees surrendered, the reports do not say what information came as a result of harsh interrogation methods and what came from conventional questioning." Newsweek also reported that "based on this evidence, it is impossible to tell whether waterboarding and other brutal methods really were more effective than nonviolent techniques in extracting credible, useful information from Abu Zubaydah or other detainees."

Los Angeles Times: Documents offer "little to support the argument that harsh or abusive methods played a key role." The Los Angeles Times reported in an August 26, 2009, article that the CIA documents "are at best inconclusive" as to the EITs effectiveness and offer "little to support the argument that harsh or abusive methods played a key role."

Media reports, experts also dispute effectiveness of waterboarding

Washington Post reported: "[N]ot a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions." In a March, 29, 2009, article, The Washington Post noted:

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

CIA interrogator called waterboarding "ineffective, slow and unreliable"; disputed claims that it provided actionable intelligence. In May 13, 2009, Senate testimony, CIA interrogator Ali Soufan said enhanced interrogation techniques "from an operational perspective, are ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result, harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda." Soufan also disputed the claim that waterboarding provided useful intelligence, noting:

SOUFAN: [I]t has been claimed that waterboarding got Abu Zubaydah to give up information leading to the capture of Jose Padilla. But that doesn't add up: Waterboarding wasn't approved until 1August 2002 (verbally it was authorized around mid July 2002), and Padilla was arrested in May 2002.

The same goes for KSM's involvement in 9/11: That was discovered in April 2002, while waterboarding was not introduced until almost three months later. It speaks volumes that the quoted instances of harsh interrogation methods being a success are false.

Slate: "While [Zubaida] did possess some very useful information ... most of it was obtained before he was water-boarded." In a March 29, 2009, Slate article, Jesse Stanchak wrote:

CIA officials initially believed [Abu] Zubaida was an al-Qaida ringleader and that information he divulged after being water-boarded would prove crucial to preventing terrorist attacks. Both assumptions were wrong. Zubaida wasn't even an official member of al-Qaida. While he did possess some very useful information about al-Qaida's membership, most of it was obtained before he was water-boarded. The leads he provided later were almost all dead ends that wasted agents' valuable time and resources. The paper says that Zubaida might now prove to be a thorny legal issue for the White House. If he's brought to trial in the U.S. after being water-boarded, he could very well be set free and establish a dangerous precedent for other Guantanamo detainees. The administration is examining the possibility of transferring his custody to another country instead.

Washington Post: KSM said he "gave a lot of false information ... in order to make the ill-treatment stop." From an August 29, 2009, Washington Post article:

Mohammed, in statements to the International Committee of the Red Cross, said some of the information he provided was untrue.

"During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop. I later told interrogators that their methods were stupid and counterproductive. I'm sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time," he said.

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