What The Tapes Would Have Shown

Kevin Drum on what the destroyed evidence would show us:

So here's what the tapes would have shown: not just that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative, but that we had brutally tortured an al-Qaeda operative who was (a) unimportant and low-ranking, (b) mentally unstable, (c) had no useful information, and (d) eventually spewed out an endless series of worthless, fantastical "confessions" under duress. This was all prompted by the president of the United States, implemented by the director of the CIA, and the end result was thousands of wasted man hours by intelligence and and law enforcement personnel.

I was thinking of this the other day when once again pondering the "does torture work" question. It's a reminder that the right issue isn't "could there be times when torture produces useful information?" it's "is torture as a policy a good way of obtaining useful information?" In other words: Does the time wasted on obtaining bad information, or -- worse -- acting on it, outweigh the good it is. From what we've been able to see peeking out of the shadows of the Bush torture regime, the answer looks like a very resounding "no." In addition to the time wasted and the innocent people killed, the administration was able to confirm a lot of its wrong preconceptions about Iraq, and in the battlefield scenarios at Bagram and Abu Ghraib set the stabilization missions backwards by turning our forces into hated occupiers. Even if some operationally useful intel has come out of this (and with so much garbage sloshing around, how could you even tell?) the systemic impact has been to flood the system with nonsense and brutality.