Torture Caused Bogus Orange Alerts

Many of those bogus orange alerts that inconvenienced and alarmed travelers since 9/11 had an unsavory source: torture. The Bush Administration, with the tacit support of Congressional leaders of both political parties, tortured terrorists and other detainees into confessing imaginary plots. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.), who recently called for an investigation of the Bush Administration, herself knew of the torture for years, having received over 30 intelligence briefings, and Congress knowingly funded the precise programs that practiced torture).

“When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader . . .The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads. In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions. . .Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.” And it turns out that “Abu Zubaida was not even an official member of al-Qaeda.”

All of this waste of money and resources could have been avoided simply by following our country’s obligation, under treaties like the Convention Against Torture, not to subject detainees to torture or inhuman treatment. (By torture, I do not mean long-term confinement. I repeatedly criticized the Bush Administration’s use of torture. But interning enemy combatants at places like Guantanamo — where little if any of the torture occurred — violates no international obligations. The ceaseless romanticizing of the Guantanamo detainees, many of whom are dangerous terrorists who need to be kept confined to prevent future attacks, is downright annoying.)

The federal government has also messed up airline security. The federal Transportation Security Administration fails to catch fake bombs three times as often as private security companies, and 2.5 times as often as the private companies the TSA replaced after 9/11.

ADDENDUM, March 30: As readers have noted, the most recent Washington Post article I linked to in this blog post has a headline that inaccurately suggests that no plots were foiled as a result of information obtained under torture — even though, buried deep in the article, is the authors’ tacit concession to the contrary, in stating that no significant plots” were uncovered as a result of that information. The article does, however, indicate that more useful information was obtained from Zubaida before the use of torture than after its use — and that the use of torture produced a large amount of false information and false alarms (as the title of this blog post indicates) that wasted valuable time and money. Thus, on balance, it still undermines the case for using torture, although somewhat less than the Post’s headline suggests.