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In the news…

Suddenly, world events have made Sam Harris’ unwise attempt to rescue his torture argument and my criticism of it (see prior post) look prescient. Various torture promoters and defenders from theBush administration have already started coming out of the woodwork to claim that information obtained by torture led to finding Osama bin Laden. On the available evidence, it looks like this claim is as completely bogus as all their prior claims to have obtained valuable information from torture: New York Times reports on the subject with its usual subdued dispassion, and Andrew Sullivan rips apart the lies.

On my admittedly still shallow first analysis, it looks like the best-case scenario for the torture promoters is that the torture of two highly-placed al Qaeda figures may have led to negative corroboration: That is, they lied about the name/importance of one of bin Laden’s trusted couriers, a name acquired through interrogation of a more cooperative prisoner who was not tortured. Of course, there’s no reason to doubt that these highly-placed al Qaeda leaders would also have lied about the courier had they not been tortured: It was the cross-checking information from multiple interrogations that led to intelligence with real potential value, not the torture-extracted misinformation.

Update: A commenter here and numerous facebook friends have also directed my attention to this interview with a professional military interrogator who supports my claims that torture is ineffective. He also argues that the use of illegal and immoral torture methods by the Bush administration was not only a great recruiting tool for al Qaeda (and like-minded terrorists), but that it actually slowed down the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Another update: Somehow, I missed this Forbes interview with a current top U.S. military interrogator in Afghanistan, who says that…

torture played no role in locating Osama bin Laden, and that claims to the contrary by former Bush administration officials recently amount t0 “propaganda [that] degrades our intelligence operations more than any other factor I can think of.”

Categories: current events
  1. Living Life Without a Net
    2011/05/04 at 6:06 pm

    I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that torture’s in the news lately… but here’s another interesting bit of data:

    White Evangelical Protestants agree at a startling 62% that torture can sometimes or often be justified. One out of five thinks we ought to use it often. Significantly less “unaffiliated” (psst… non-believers) agree — forty percent.


  2. 2011/05/04 at 10:32 pm

    Yes, and I saw your interesting post inspired by the topic. Kudos!

  3. GeorgiaLingua
    2011/05/04 at 11:57 pm

    Hey Philosophical Primate, although I know you hate the Huffington Post, I thought you might find this interview interesting:


    The interviewee basically lays out the argument that ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques slowed our efforts up, rather than helped them.

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