Again And Again And Again And Again

The NYT revisits former CIA officer John Kiriakou's ABC interview about Abu Zubaydah's interrogation. Kiriakou claimed that Zubaydah broke after “probably 30, 35 seconds,” of waterboarding, but the recently released torture memos showed Zubaydah was waterboarded "at least 83 times." Drum responds:

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?

Greenwald has more. Spencer Ackerman imagines another possibility:

The final possibility is gruesome that both things are true. Abu Zubaydah broke, but they continued to waterboard him 82 times.  What would further declassifications show? How many times was Abu Zubaydah waterboarded before the CIA was convinced they’d gotten “everything” out of him? It’s implausible to believe Abu Zubaydah said nothing after the first waterboard session, or the fifth, or the tenth, or the twentieth, or the thirtieth or the eightieth.

Was it to buttress a casus belli against Iraq? There are arguments for and against. But surely the point is that we cannot know for sure based on the shards of evidence in front of us. Worse: because torture has been introduced into the equation, we will probably never know what was true or false, what leads were valid and which were not, which questions were asked in good faith and which were not.

The torturing of these suspects ineluctably renders them pliable for whatever truth the torturers wanted to believe. This is how torture creates reality - and that reality is always for the purpose and benefit of those with the power to torture. How many torturers over the centuries have publicly acknowledged they got nothing from it? The stigma is such that they have to claim it worked - or face a double shame. And the capacity of torturers for self-deception is profound. Even Cheney wants to sleep at night. Even Cheney wants to believe he did the right thing.

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But even if you trust Bush and Cheney to be torturing with the right motives (yes, I wrote those words), the act of torture itself obliterates the saliency of motive. Because the power it gives the torturer removes him from the regular to and fro of human life. Torture, when used, is like Tolkien's ring, when slipped on. It becomes its own power and its own rationale because it can coerce its own results. This is why civilized societies have placed the torture option off limits - way off limits with a wide berth in law and custom. Because it destroys the core elements of truth, freedom and fairness that are foundational for Western civilization.

Bush and Cheney removed those foundations and where they once were, a deep and dark hole lies open to the world.

It is their Ground Zero.