Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Washington Post has an article about the waterboarding and abuse of Abu Zubaida, who was allegedly a high-ranking Al Qaeda leader. The torture of the man produced nothing useful at all:

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 who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

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, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. 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.


Worse yet, they ignored evidence that he was not who they thought he was and kept on abusing him anyway:

Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations,” and other top officials called him a “trusted associate” of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.

Abu Zubaida was not even an official member of al-Qaeda, according to a portrait of the man that emerges from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement and military sources. Rather, he was a “fixer” for radical Muslim ideologues, and he ended up working directly with al-Qaeda only after Sept. 11 — and that was because the United States stood ready to invade Afghanistan.

This is one of the main problems with such interrogations and it has nothing to do with those famous “ticking timebomb” scenarios we hear so much about. They’re convinced they have a high value target in detention but in fact he’s just a low level flunkie who has little to tell him. So when he doesn’t give them useful information, they’re convinced they have to torture him to get the information they’re sure he has.

And even after they torture him and he tells them everything he thinks they want to hear to make them stop, and even after they waste time and resources chasing all the false leads he gives them, they never think to question their own assumptions either for that person or for others. Even after the failure of their first instance of torture, they continued to approve others.