The LA Times has an interview with Brian Michael Jenkins, a counter-terrorism expert and adviser to the Rand Corporation, and he has some interesting things to say. He argues that even if you get some useful information, the downside of the blow you take when others know that you’re using torture far outweighs those benefits:
I don’t think torture belongs in the American arsenal. I think torture is illegal, is immoral, but I would go further and argue that it doesn’t work.
These silly scenarios [in which] the terrorist knows where the bomb is that’s about to go off in 30 minutes — that’s not reality. Further, you have to judge what you get in information versus the strategic loss that you take when it is revealed, as it will be inevitably, that a country is employing torture.
In Madrid, [I chaired] a working group on intelligence at the time of the revelations of the abuses in Iraq. I was being pummeled by men who are not squeamish, not hand-wringing compassionate folks, [who said] it was worse than immoral — it was stupid. The information really had very little value, and yet the loss that we took strategically to our reputation is tremendous. This is like going to Las Vegas and throwing down a million dollars to win a nickel.
He also commented on the similarities between the conspiratorial echo chamber in the Islamic world and the one on the American right wing:
In Muslim countries there’s a belief that the cargo bombs story was a fabrication to discredit Islam. The same thing goes for 9/11. How widespread is that reaction?
It is extraordinarily widespread, and it is a problem. We’re dealing with countries that do not have a tradition of a free or independent press, and [do have] an inclination to disbelieve anything in the news. [There's] an appetite for conspiracy theories.
You have a little bit of the same thing going on in this country, where you can have people’s beliefs determined by their underlying ideological beliefs. Look [at] the persistence of the birthers, or the belief that the president is a secret Muslim. You say, that’s astounding, that flies in the face of evidence. What is happening is that people’s beliefs are so strongly held, they are producing their own “facts.”