The Myths Behind Conservative Media's Defense Of Torture

Right-wing media are relying on a litany of myths to defend the use of torture on terrorism suspects, responding to the findings of a Senate investigation on the practice by pretending “torture isn't torture” and improperly crediting brutal interrogation for information that led to the capture of Osama bin Laden.

MYTH: Torture Produced Intelligence That Led To Bin Laden

MYTH: Release Of Torture Report Is Political, Timed To Distract From Other Issues

MYTH: “Torture Isn't Torture”

Senate Report Details CIA's Use Of Torture On Terrorism Suspects

Senate Intelligence Committee Released Report On CIA Torture Techniques. On December 9, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a 528-page executive summary of a report on the CIA's interrogation of terrorism suspects at secret prison sites. The full report, over 6,000 pages long, took five years to produce and drew on over six million CIA documents. [The Washington Post, 12/9/14]

MYTH: Torture Produced Intelligence That Led To Bin Laden

Karl Rove: “These Techniques Helped Make America Safe By Helping Us Kill Osama Bin Laden.” On the December 8 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, former adviser to President George W. Bush and Fox contributor Karl Rove claimed that Osama bin Laden was located and killed because of intelligence procured through “these techniques”:

ROVE: We know publicly about one example of how these techniques helped make America safe -- by helping us kill Osama bin Laden. You may remember, what happened is, is that two interrogators, a guy was swept up, caught on the battlefield, low level operative. They interrogated him. They then went to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Zubaydah and said, 'Is this guy important?' And they went then to Mike Hayden, then director of the CIA, and said, 'Director Hayden, KSM and Zubaydah say these people, this guy is unimportant, but from our interrogations of these guys over the years, we believe they're hiding something. We think this guy is important.' And he becomes the guy that when they trace him and trace his relationships and trace where he goes, bring us to Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad and eventually to Osama bin Laden's death. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 12/8/14]

Fox Host Eric Bolling: Aggressive Interrogation “Got Some Intel That Led To The Capture Of Osama Bin Laden.” On the December 8 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Eric Bolling argued that the CIA's use of torture produced intelligence that led to the capture of Osama bin Laden:

BOLLING: I celebrate what the CIA did in the aftermath of 9-11. Three thousand people lost their lives downtown. We were angry. America was on our heels, we didn't know what to do, and the CIA came forward, and they aggressively interrogated -- legally -- aggressively interrogated some bad guys. And they got some intel that led to the capture of Osama bin Laden. Why are we apologizing for it? [Fox News, The Five, 12/8/14]

Fox Host Elisabeth Hasselbeck: The “Success Of The Interrogation Program” Includes Finding Bin Laden's Courier. On the December 9 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck credited torture techniques with locating bin Laden's courier:

HASSELBECK: When you look at the success of the interrogation program here, and the outline which just dictates here the information that was gleaned from this process, at a time where our national security was in fact attacked, that our nation was attacked, moving forward, this information was valuable. KSM generated more than 2,000 intel reports, that's the mastermind behind 9-11. It led to bin Laden's courier, finding al Kuwaiti. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/9/14]

FACT: Report Determined Torture Did Not Produce Vital Intelligence That Led To Capture Of Bin Laden 

Vital Intelligence Leading To Bin Laden Was Obtained Without Torture. The Senate report determined that “the most valuable information on Osama bin Laden was obtained outside of enhanced interrogation techniques or prior to detainees even being held by the CIA,” as ABC News explained:

The report released today by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that the most valuable information on Osama bin Laden was obtained outside of enhanced interrogation techniques or prior to detainees even being held by the CIA.

Several detainees provided information about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, bin Laden's courier, which led to the raid that killed him. According to the report, the information was obtained outside the enhanced interrogation techniques program.

“While CIA detainees eventually did provide some information on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti beginning in the spring of 2003, the majority of the accurate intelligence acquired on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti was collected outside of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program,” according to the report. [ABC News, 12/9/14]

Four Experienced Interrogators: Torture “Almost Certainly Prolonged the Hunt” For Bin Laden. In 2011, former interrogators Matthew Alexander (using a pseudonym), U.S. Army intelligence officer Col. (Ret.) Stuart Herrington, former FBI special agent Joe Navarro, and military intelligence veteran Ken Robinson issued a press release explaining that the CIA's use of torture “almost certainly prolonged the hunt for Bin Laden”:

The use of waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques almost certainly prolonged the hunt for Bin Laden and complicated the jobs of professional U.S. interrogators who were trying to develop useful information from unwilling sources like Khalid Sheik Muhammed.

Reports say that Khalid Sheik Muhammed and Abu Faraq al-Libi did not divulge the nom de guerre of a courier during torture, but rather several months later, when they were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques.

This is not surprising. Our experience is that torture is a poor way to develop useful, accurate information.

We know from experience that it is very difficult to elicit information from a detainee who has been abused. The abuse often only strengthens their resolve and makes it that much harder for an interrogator to find a way to elicit useful information. [Huffington Post, 5/5/11]

MYTH: Release Of Torture Report Is Political, Timed To Distract From Other Issues

Fox Host Andrea Tantaros: Torture Report Is “About Politics,” Released To Distract From Obamacare. On the December 9 edition of Outnumbered, Fox News host Andrea Tantaros claimed that the Senate report was being released for political reasons, in an effort to distract the nation from Obamacare: 

TANTAROS: Why are we putting out this memo? We've had this discussion. We've had this debate. And it's not about democracy now. No, no. It's about politics. It's about democrats being so fundamentally lost as a party, Harris, they have to return to an old playbook. The plays that they ran right when Obama got into office, trying to prosecute CIA officials for these terror tactics. And that same playbook, that they feel got them the House of Representatives back even under Tom Delay's electoral map. They were screaming about this. It's how they were winning elections. They have nothing else to talk about and they don't want to talk about Gruber, or health care, or the IRS, or anything else. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 12/9/14]

Fox's National Security Analyst: Release Of Torture Report Was Likely “Completely Political.”  On Happening Now on December 9, network national security analyst KT McFarland asked, “Why make the report public now?” She surmised the Senate's motivation “was completely political,” and wondered, “Are the Democrats in the Senate -- they've been evicted from the House. Are they just trashing the place before they leave?” [Fox News, Happening Now, 12/9/14]

Rush Limbaugh: Torture Report Was Released “By Design” To Dwarf Hearing On Obamacare. On the December 9 edition of his radio program, Rush Limbaugh lamented the fact that the torture report was released the same day as a congressional hearing on health care reform. Rush complained that the Obamacare hearing was “dwarfed” by “what is happening with the release of how rotten and horrible this stinking country was when George Bush was president.”  [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 12/9/14]

FACT: Senate Voted Months Ago To Release Report 

NY Times: Senate Voted In April To Declassify Portion Of Report, Which Has Taken Five Years To Produce. As the Times explained, the Senate's torture report has been planned for declassification since April:

The long-delayed report, which took five years to produce and is based on more than six million internal agency documents, is a sweeping indictment of the C.I.A.'s operation and oversight of a program carried out by agency officials and contractors in secret prisons around the world in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It also provides a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects.


The entire report is more than 6,000 pages long, but the committee voted in April to declassify only its 524-page executive summary and a rebuttal by Republican members of the committee. The investigation was conducted by staff members working for Democratic senators on the committee. [The New York Times, 12/9/14]

Member Of Senate Intel Committee: Report Was Released Now Because We Just Got The Final Version Back From The Administration. Appearing on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper on December 9, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) explained that the torture report was approved by a bipartisan vote in the Senate committee, and though it has been completed for nearly two years, the committee just now received the final version back from the CIA and the Obama administration:

SEN. KING: This report was completed almost two years ago. It was given to the CIA for their response and then was given to the White House last May. And by the way, all this business about this being entirely partisan -- the vote to approve the report was 11-3. It was a bipartisan vote. And then it's been since last May to now to finally get all the redactions and national security concerns taken care of. So why is it -- why is the timing now? Because we just had the final version back from the administration about four days ago. [CNN, The Lead, 12/9/14]

MYTH: “Torture Isn't Torture”

Fox's Jesse Watters: “So We Humiliated A Few Terrorists. No One Cares.On Outnumbered, Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters said of the response to the report, “So we roughed up a few of them. So we humiliated a few terrorists. No one cares.” He followed up saying, “It's not torture.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 12/9/14]

Limbaugh: “Torture Isn't Torture.” On his radio program, Limbaugh argued that “the left” is redefining language to present enhanced interrogation as torture:

LIMBAUGH: The demonization of the CIA and their use of waterboarding is a textbook example of how the media and the rest of the Democrat party establish a lie and repeat it until it becomes a fact. I'm going to tell you -- torture isn't torture. A government shutdown is not a government shutdown. Immigration reform isn't immigration reform. We're losing the language. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 12/9/14]

Laura Ingraham: Better For The CIA To “Err On The Side Of Being A Little Too Aggressive.” During her December 9 radio show, Fox News contributor and ABC News contributor Laura Ingraham justified the use of torture by the CIA by asking, “Did the CIA behead anyone? Did they?” She went on, “Perhaps there were some excesses. Perhaps there were some abuses. But, my goodness. I would rather have them err on the side of being a little too aggressive than be forced into, as Michael Hayden said, this a perpetual position of timidity.” [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 12/9/14]

FACT: Torture Was “More Brutal And Employed More Extensively” Than Previously Acknowledged

NY Times: "C.I.A.'s Interrogation Techniques Were More Brutal and Employed More Extensively" Than CIA Portrayed. The Times described how the report found that the CIA's “interrogation techniques were more brutal and employed more extensively than the agency portrayed.” The torture techniques used against detainees included “sleep deprivation up to a week” and “near drowning”:

The report describes extensive waterboarding as a “series of near drownings” and suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three prisoners the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The report also describes detainees being subjected to sleep deprivation for up to a week, medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” and death threats. Conditions at one prison, described by a clandestine officer as a “dungeon,” were blamed for the death of a detainee, and the harsh techniques were described as leading to “psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation.” [The New York Times, 12/9/14]

Report Detailed How Detainees Were Subjected To Freezing Temperatures, Waterboarding, “Rectal Feeding.” The Daily Beast outlined some of the most brutal torture techniques detainees were subjected to as detailed by Senate report:

Interrogations that lasted for days on end. Detainees forced to stand on broken legs, or go 180 hours in a row without sleep. A prison so cold, one suspect essentially froze to death.


At least five detainees were subjected to “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration,” without any documented medical need. “While IV infusion is safe and effective,” one officer wrote, rectal hydration could be used as a form of behavior control. [The Daily Beast, 12/9/14]

Report Found That Actual Practices “Often Went Far Beyond” Those Approved By Department Of Justice. As Politico reported, the interrogation techniques laid out in the torture report frequently “went far beyond” what had been approved by the Department of Justice:

The congressional review also says that the CIA's actual tactics often went far beyond the terms laid out in Justice Department legal opinions, subjecting detainees to prolonged interrogation under a combination of harsh techniques and ignoring safeguards set forth in the legal memos such as ensuring that interrogators were well-trained and had high-level approvals before using the unusually aggressive tactics. [Politico, 12/9/14]