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Valuable Intel or More Terrorists?

January 8, 2010

Sullivan articulates a view that many on the Right dispute:

I have little doubt that Bush and Cheney cluelessly created far more terrorism than they prevented because of their fiasco in Iraq, incompetent occupation of Afghanistan, and embrace of torture techniques once the rpeserve of totalitarian regimes. Everyone in intelligence agrees that Gitmo and Abu Ghraib in particular were recruitment tools for the enemy.

Empirically speaking, we don’t know this a’tall.  It can’t be proven beyond anecdotal evidence and the occasional “CIA bomber was upset about Israel’s attacks on Gaza” story.  Of course, we don’t know that this didn’t happen any more than that it did, but is that really any way to judge these things?  Here’s Sullivan again, in an open letter to President Bush, discussing whether or not our policy on detainees saved American lives:

You argue that you authorized these dehumanizing and cruel policies because you were determined to protect the nation from another terror attack. This is a claim impossible for those of us without security clearances to judge. Many have questioned it. No one has argued that such policies prevented any catastrophic attack with weapons of mass destruction, the original justification for the extraordinary use of torture by a country dedicated to human rights and the rule of law.

This is another instance in which we don’t actually have any cold, hard data.  There is a general consensus, however, that the interrogation of certain detainees, namely KSM, yielded information which did indeed save the lives of American civilians from murder by a stateless, jihadist enemy, as Marc Thiessen relays for us in this post:

In Courting Disaster, I lay out the evidence that these techniques were directly responsible for stopping specific terrorist attacks. Read it and judge for yourself. The fact is that virtually every impartial investigation into the efficacy of the CIA interrogation program has concluded that it produced intelligence that saved lives.

The fact is that you can’t sit around and say that our interrogation techniques produced more terrorists than we would have otherwise had without acknowledging that said techniques save innocent lives, because neither of those “facts” is based on any calculable data.  If you accept one, you must accept the other.  The idea that there isn’t some ethical dilemma at the center of this argument is ludicrous.  The simple fact is that you have to ask yourself if you’re willing to accept that you’ve captured a person who is withholding information that may keep innocent American citizens from dying at the hands of murderers at the expense of not subjecting somebody who was trying to do just that to interrogation techniques that are probably torturous.  And the answer is not as easy as either Sullivan or Thiessen suggest.

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