FBI Agents Contradict White House Insistence that Torture Yielded Valuable Information from Abu Zubaida

The Washington Post has reported that the FBI did not view the torture of Abu Zubaida as yielding valuable information — one of the principle arguments for embracing an official torture program.

According to the Post:

While CIA officials have described him as an important insider whose disclosures under intense pressure saved lives, some FBI agents and analysts say he is largely a loudmouthed and mentally troubled hotelier whose credibility dropped as the CIA subjected him to a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding and to other “enhanced interrogation” measures.

The question of whether Abu Zubaida — whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein — was an unstable source who provided limited intelligence under gentle questioning, or a hardened terrorist who cracked under extremely harsh measures, goes to the heart of the current Washington debate over coercive interrogations and torture.

While this supports the common view that torture generally yields unreliable information, it is important to note that this debate has been framed in terms appealing to the White House: whether torture is beneficial. In a demonstration of the ultimate moral relativity of this Administration, the primary argument in the torture debate is whether it has produced useful information. Of course, there was a time when we viewed torture as immoral — regardless of its value. Under the Administration’s view, we would be placed on a slippery slope where any potential crime from murder to terrorism could justify torture.

The same moral relativity is being voiced by Senators in the unlawful surveillance debate. Even Democrats have noted that the program has yielded usual intelligence — rather than treat the matter as purely a question of its legality. This is precisely why the U.S. is now viewed as hypocritical around the world. The test of principle is whether we follow principle when it is neither convenient nor popular.

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3 thoughts on “FBI Agents Contradict White House Insistence that Torture Yielded Valuable Information from Abu Zubaida

  1. Yes, if the oft-reiterated “saving American lives” is the paramount value of our times–then why stop at torture? It would indeed be expedient to have pre-emptive wars, assassinations, kidnappings, arsons, assaults, extra-legal detentions and all the other unsavory methods available to a truly effective Executive.

    Let’s discard 2500 years of morality and do anything it takes to achieve our ends.

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