Lately I’ve been noticing a couple of people (shcb in the comments here, and my boss’s boss at work, who is the nicest guy in the world, but who suffers from an incurable delusion that Fox News really is fair and balanced) going around saying that the Bush administration’s use of torture produced lots of actionable intelligence and saved lots of American lives.
How do they know that? I mean, other than by the Bush administration itself claiming it to be so? Apparently they know it in part because of a December 2007 ABC interview with former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Kiriakou got a lot of play in the right-wing media, and his claims about how fast Abu Zubaydah broke under waterboarding and how he immediately began providing information that “disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks” are an article of faith among the defenders of torture’s efficacy.
Kiriakou’s information always seemed suspicious, in that it was weakly sourced (Kiriakou apparently wasn’t present at the events he described, and didn’t offer any documentation or corroboration), while other CIA sources (like those Ron Suskind used for his book The One Percent Doctrine) offered contradictory accounts.
Now, with the release of the torture memos, we have a way to test some of Kiriakou’s claims. And guess what? They don’t hold up.
Kevin Drum has details: Torturing Abu Zubaydah.
Kiriakou’s testimony was immensely influential at the time, but it’s pretty clear now that he was wrong: unless the CIA continued waterboarding him just for sport, Zubaydah didn’t break after a single session. Or ten sessions. Or fifty. And if Kiriakou was wrong about that, what are the odds that he was also wrong about the “dozens of attacks”? Or about the fact that waterboarding was responsible for any actionable information at all?
Ron Suskind, on the other hand, hasn’t been contradicted at all. As near as I can tell, his reporting has stood up almost perfectly in the face of subsequent evidence. If you want to know what really happened to Zubaydah, his book remains the gold standard for now.
That’s the key phrase: “If you want to know what really happened.” As near as I can tell, the reason why shcb and my boss’s boss continue to get their information from demonstrated liars is that they don’t want to know what really happened. They already know what happened. All they want now is confirmation, and some authoritative-sounding evidence they can use to undercut their opponents. If that’s all you’re looking for, the right-wing media is a perfectly adequate source.