Torture Hearing: What Did We Learn?

May 13, 2009 10:10 am

So, what came out of today’s hearings on torture?

  • Perhaps the main piece of news came when Philip Zelikow, the former top State Department lawyer, revealed that the memo he wrote offering an alternative view on the legality of torture — which he says the Bush White House tried to destroy — has been located, and is being reviewed for declassification. The memo figures to be a hot item when released.

  • Ali Soufan, the former FBI interrogator who testified behind a screen for security reasons, made a point that seems to undercut the argument of torture supporters that waterboarding has been shown to work. They cite the interrogations of Khlaid Sheikh Mohamed and Joe Padilla as having used “enhanced interrogation techniques” to produce actionable intelligence. But Soufan pointed out that torture wasn’t approved until August 1, 2002, after those interrogations took place.
  • Soufan also described in detail the process of interrogating Abu Zubaydah, which he was involved in. He said that when he and CIA officers used legal techniques, they quickly learned valuable information, including that KSM masterminded the 9/11 attacks. But when a contractor came in and started torturing Zubaydah, he quickly clammed up. Overall, said Soufan, the use of torture was “harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaeda.”
  • As for Sheldon Whitehouse, the Rhode Island Democratic senator chairing the hearing, he decried the Bush administration’s lies about how the torture program was approved:
  • We were told that waterboarding was determined to be legal, but were not told how badly the law was ignored, bastardized and manipulated by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel nor were we told how furiously government and military lawyers rejected the defective OLC opinions.

  • Another witness, David Luban, of Georgetown Law, called the Bush OLC memos “an ethical train wreck.”
  • And of course, Lindsey Graham humiliated himself, badgering a witness with whom he disagreed and citing a now-debunked ABC News story as evidence that torture works.
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