Drum on Kiriakou’s Claims about Torture’s Effectiveness

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.

17 Responses to “Drum on Kiriakou’s Claims about Torture’s Effectiveness”

  1. enkidu Says:


    This man deserves to be first in line to kick Dick Cheney and the rest of the Torture Regime in the nuts (metaphorically speaking of course ;-).

    What is so bizarre about this whole discussion is: if The Bad Guys™ did this to our Good Guys™ we’d want them prosecuted (or executed judging by the howls of indignation from the Wingbutoverse). We executed Japanese soldiers for doing this to our men in WWII. You don’t beat insanity by going insane.

    Right wing extremists don’t want to know anything more than the comforting fact-free pablum doled out by foxnews, rush, drudge and pantloadmedia. Yes, we tortured, yes some of those guys were Really Really Bad Guys, but we also tortured innocents, we killed some of them in the process of extracting bogus ‘information’. The bush regime put in place a casual torture regime. It will be a long long time in removing that bloody stain from our nation’s soul.
    gfy wwnj gfy

  2. knarlyknight Says:

    You two plus Drum and Suskind make a good truther team.

    May be off topic, but maybe Specter is just as disgusted at the GOP torture party as Enk?

    — Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party, multiple sources tell CNN.

  3. CKL Says:

    As much as I disagree with shcb (and presumably your boss’ boss) and believe that mindsets such as theirs are essentially what’s holding us back from improving the human race, I don’t really feel it right that you singled shcb out.

    I know, I know, this isn’t the point of the article. Really, it’s hard for me to say much more than, “I told you so in 2000” to 90% of the articles posted here, so I have to comment on something.

    shcb is as far as I’ve seen a decent guy. Sure, I disagree with him but I’ve never seen him be abusive to anyone he doesn’t agree with. That in itself is a measure of reason a lot of people are incapable of.

    shcb DID base his reasoning on information which was available — for all we know, he’ll change his mind when enough evidence surfaces to convince him. Keep in mind that we had eight years of pro-war propaganda to deal with; it’s going to take more than a few months for most people to really take a step back and put things into perspective.

    Remember, differing opinions are what makes the world great. Even if you don’t agree with what someone has to say it’s one of the most terrible things you can do to make them feel they are not entitled to their own free thoughts.

  4. enkidu Says:

    geez now we have to worry about shcb’s delicate feelings

    I miss the good old days where ol shcb waxed on about killing 10 million A-rabs, fantasized about smashing his cocktail into a woman’s face because she said things (that must have really hurt his feelings!), or when he went off on impaling ‘jokes’. And this is the most avuncular, reasonable right winger on lies.com…

    After 8 years of being screamed at that I’m a seditious traitor for disagreeing with the Bush Presidency, now it is all about being nice to the right wing extremists that damn near ruined America? Where were these folks when the wingers were threatening to kill jbc and his family and make lampshades from jbc’s skin?

    I guess I should apply to apologize to Supreme Being Limbaugh?
    Is the line really long?

  5. shcb Says:

    Thanks for that CKL. I’m probably going to disappoint you and not change my mind, but if enough evidence were brought to light I would at least be fair.

    Bret Stephens has an interesting article today in the Wall Street Journal, in it he says ;

    Mr. Tenet continues: “From our interrogation of KSM and other senior al Qaeda members . . . we learned many things — not just tactical information leading to the next capture. For example, more than 20 plots had been put in motion by al Qaeda against U.S. infrastructure targets, including communications nodes, nuclear power plants, dams, bridges and tunnels.”


    Now whether it was effective or not doesn’t make it legal or moral, but it seems to me that it was certainly effective.

  6. jbc Says:

    You don’t think George Tenet might be a wee bit biased in his assessment of whether or not the torture he conducted was effective?

  7. enkidu Says:

    shorter shcb: the ends justify the means
    apparently any ends
    and any means

    jbc, he has a Presidential Medal of FREEDOM!
    of course he is fair and balanced, I’ve seen him on fox

  8. shcb Says:

    Possibly, maybe Obama should release the memos Cheney has asked for and prove he and Tenet wrong.

  9. CKL Says:

    shcb, it’s not about changing minds — it’s about opening them. Don’t get me wrong; the positions and people you support have set us back hundreds of years in the course of global human social evolution. But you have an implicit right to think freely, and you should not be intimidated or persecuted for having contrary views so long as you present them civilly. It’s among your basic rights as a human being, along with that of NOT BEING TORTURED.

    What you need to realize is that history is written by the victors, and simply because one side in a war seems to be winning in an ongoing conflict doesn’t mean they will come out on top. Nazi Germany may have very well won WWII if the U.S. hadn’t accidentally gotten involved. In such an event, do you think that their atrocities would still be viewed as such?

    Think objectively. If it were YOUR countrymen who were being tortured, what justification would suffice for you? It may be a matter of mindset — perhaps you think American domestic prisoners convicted of rape, murder, and terrorism should be tortured.

    It’s a tricky decision whether or not torture is okay in some circumstances (assuming it were proven to save a million babies, for example). Personally, I think ANY torture for ANY reason is wrong. It perpetuates an ideal that causing human suffering is okay, which is what leads to violence. In order for the human race to begin creating our future rather than our history we need to understand that hating and hurting others is counterproductive to our progress as a species.

    enkidu, headhunting republicans because they went after democrats doesn’t make it right and certainly doesn’t get us anywhere — that’s one thing Obama and I agree on.

    It’s the issues of “constitutional rights, specifically those limiting the power of government” and “not abusing our power as a nation to protect those who violate human rights simply to grease the political wheels” upon which Obama and I aren’t on the same page.

  10. enkidu Says:

    so CKL, what was your handle when you used to post here?
    I googled “CKL” and “lies.com” as the only site to search and only came up with a handful of posts. I’d be curious what you used to post here, you know for the record…

    headhunting? i just want the truth out in the open.
    not sure what you are talking about.

    I have been an independent voter for my entire life, I want any Ds who advocated torture to be held accountable as well. It isn’t this mythical ‘bush derangement syndrome’ (the Obama fever must be ten times worse considering all the howling and vitriol coming from the shrinking right wing nutjob contingent), we just want an honest accounting of what happened and why. wwnj will be satisfied, Ds will be embarrassed and the vast middle of America will be sickened and disgusted by the truth: we tortured innocents (and Bad Guys) and sunk below their level to extract lies to get the Iraq War on.

    I think Condi and the rest of the perps could get a pardon, as long as we tattoo on their forehead the image of that hooded Iraqi, standing on a box, getting his genitals electrocuted. Like a scarlet “A” for adultery, but this time the picture would be clear.

  11. shcb Says:


    I enjoy an open minded discussion as much as the next guy but you have to convince me to change my mind, and you have to do it with logic and reason.

    I don’t think history is written by the victors, not in today’s world for sure. History is written by academics for the most part, and war crimes are almost always prosecuted by the victors, I would agree with that, but history is written by both sides.

    My countrymen are being tortured, they have been tortured, dragged through the street naked, they have been beheaded in front of their families and the rest of the world. They are also being targeted for death for no other reason than they are in the location they are in, in their own hometown.

    Now to torture. Churchill said that when a civilized country goes to war with an uncivilized country they must lose some of their civility. The first thing you have to determine is what are your objectives. I’ve been reading about the battle of Crecy lately. I think it is a good lesson for this topic. Crecy is generally considered the battle that ended chivalry. Edward used archers of conscripted commoners to gain tactical standoff capability, he did not offer mercy to knights wounded in battle unless he thought he could get ransom and he had his commoner forces dispatch the wounded knights after battle. The archers, when they were finally overrun, attacked the knights in groups, they did not fight as the rules of chivalry dictated. One would distract the French knight and a couple more would tackle him to the ground where his armor turned into a liability. They then would find a weak spot in the armor and stab him with daggers.

    So how does this relate to this subject? The objective of Edward was to win, the objective of the French was to win with honor; Edward won, the French lost with honor. Fast forward to WWI, the air battles were much like the knights, they were noblemen, many purchased their own planes, there were rules of chivalry in the fights, this pretty much ended by the end of the war as objectives changed, winning became more important than the games of the rich. After WWII we established the Geneva Conventions, another stab at chivalry. One of the weaknesses of these accords is that they are written around civilized countries, they say what it takes to be eligible for these protections, but not a lot about what to do with those that don’t abide by them or those that aren’t eligible.

    So what do you do when the Edwards, or the Bin Laden’s of the world don’t play by the rules? Do you stick to convention and lose with dignity? Do you sink to the lowest level of human depravity? Or do you find a middle spot? Edward broke the laws of chivalry, but he didn’t crucify the wounded knights, he didn’t mutilate their bodies or anything else. He simply went as far as he had to in order to win. When Arabs were saying off heads of our citizens we didn’t line up 50 of them and saw off their heads. We went as far as we had to in order to win.

    So let’s see how open minded you are. What say you?

  12. enkidu Says:

    shorter shcb: any end, any means

    we didn’t beat the Nazis by becoming worse than the Nazis
    and we won’t beat these fringe psychos (like wwnj here and their counterpart, the ienjs) by abandoning our laws and morals

  13. shcb Says:

    we bombed Dresden

  14. shcb Says:

    You don’t have to be worse than your enemies, but sometimes you have to become worse than yourself.

  15. enkidu Says:

    funny how you are suddenly all teary eyed about the Nazis and Dresden…
    you do recall them bombing civilians in London? (and any other city that stood in their path) or are you a Holocaust denier as well?
    oh right it’s FDR, fine to armchair QB FDR, but Bush is off limits?

    next thing you know you’ll be wailing about the atomic bombs we dropped on Japan. Any totalitarian right wing fascist nutjob regime in a storm, eh?

    Calling the Geneva Conventions “another stab at chivalry” shows a remarkable lack of understanding of what both of these concepts were all about. However a new Geneva Convention might be in order to codify what civilized nations do and don’t do in an era of unconventional warfare. For example, we don’t torture. You do. Mostly you torture logic, reason, morality and decency.

  16. shcb Says:

    it’s just impossible to talk to you

  17. enkidu Says:

    just keep brushing your teeth with bullshit lil ricki

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