Sunday, August 30, 2009

Maybe enhanced interrogation does work after all...

Stephen Hayes at The Weekly Standard is seeing evidence that the major news media are finding it harder to ignore evidence that enhanced techniques, including waterboarding, may actually work.

The Washington Post has an important front-page story this morning, with matter-of-fact reporting on the importance of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad as an intelligence source and the enhanced interrogation techniques that made him talk. The piece is headlined: "How a Detainee Became an Asset: September 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding."

One key source is former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, who acknowledged that two of the CIA’s “most powerful” enhanced interrogation techniques “elicited a lot of information."

"Certain of the techniques seemed to have little effect, whereas waterboarding and sleep deprivation were the two most powerful techniques and elicited a lot of information," he said in an interview with the Post.
...there seems to be a subtle shift in his argument. In the IG report Helgerson had written that “measuring the overall effectiveness of EITs” is challenging and a “subjective process.”

In his interview with the Post, Helgerson narrowed the reasons he gave for his reluctance to draw conclusions. Count the qualifiers. Helgerson said he was not in "a position to reach definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of particular interrogation methods" and that “we didn't have the time or resources to do a careful, systematic analysis of the use of particular techniques with particular individuals and independently confirm the quality of the information that came out."

But that kind of analysis misses the point. The fact Helgerson didn’t perform such a study hardly prevents us from concluding that EITs were effective. It is not the effectiveness of “particular interrogation methods” that matters. It’s whether the EITs were effective used together, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes sequentially. And they were.
Helgerson says something else important. He acknowledges that EITs, particularly sleep deprivation and waterboarding, “elicited a lot of information” but he laments his inability to assess the quality of that intelligence. And the quality does matter. If EITs simply elicited lots of bad information nobody would consider them effective. They didn’t.

He provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists including Sayfullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen who Khalid Shaykh Muhammad planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States; Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York; and Majid Khan, an operative who could enter the United States easily and was tasked to research attacks [redacted]. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad’s information also led to the investigation and prosecution of Iyman Faris, the truck driver arrested in early 2003 in Ohio.
Regardless of whether one believes CIA-inflicted waterboarding, sleep deprivation or severe psychological coercion (suggesting that harm could come to a family member of a taciturn al Qaeda detainee) constitute torture, such actions may have produced an intelligence bonanza and saved thousands of lives.

There may soon be more information made public that will demonstrate the effectiveness of EITs. Current and former CIA officials supportive of the program are pushing to have other reports declassified -– including a “rebuttal” document to the IG report written by senior officials in the directorate of operations; two internal CIA reviews of the program; and, perhaps most important, the interrogation logs written by interrogators to share the information they elicited with other interrogators and others at the CIA.

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