The Novice Torturers

By Patrick Appel
Publius reviews Jane Mayer's brilliant book:

In reading Mayer, one striking aspect of the administration’s anti-terrorism policies is how completely haphazard and impetuous they were. There was practically no deliberation within the government, particularly among the branches who (1) actually knew something about this stuff; and (2) were, you know, statutorily authorized to do something.

Instead, a lawless cabal of ignorant people – Yoo, Addington, etc. – decided to craft national anti-terrorism policy having basically no experience in the relevant fields (military, terrorism, etc.). The disparity between (1) the magnitude of decisions being made, and (2) the relative ignorance of the people making them is simply staggering. The Geneva Convention – one of the greatest accomplishments of mankind, and US policy for decades – was gone with a stroke of John Yoo’s pen (noted military expert John Yoo). A decision to free the CIA from laws against torture, and to break with decades of precedent and opt for kangaroo court military commissions over courts martial – all gone, all upon an uninformed whim.

I had a similar epiphany while reading Mayer's book. The Bush administration took an agency, the CIA, with little history of interrogation and made it the de facto interrogator for terrorists and "terrorists." FBI agents, who were trained, competent interrogators with decades of experience, wanted nothing to do with the torture techniques outlined by Rumsfield – because experienced interrogators knew better. Not only did the government violate the law, they put our national security in unexperienced hands at the very moment when good intelligence was needed most. Here's part of an interview with Mayer from earlier this year:

[Zubaydah] was questioned first by the FBI. And in fact when the FBI saw what was going on and how the CIA intended to treat him, they withdrew, because they were afraid that it was criminal. And in fact one of the FBI agents told headquarters of the FBI he thought that the CIA interrogators should be arrested.

After 9/11 the Bush administration was obcessed, unstandably, with preventing another attack. But they failed to understand that going harder – authorizing torture – doesn't create better intel. Cheney et al wanted to torture these detainees and they shoved the most experienced operators out of the way to do so. It's unbelieveably reckless.