Katherine questions (below) whether the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" are effective. I can't answer that; as Katherine rightly points out, the evidence for and against is classified (and perhaps rightly so). We can know, however, that torture did not work in the case of Maher Arar, a case long chronicled on this blog. From today's Washington Post:
The inquiry, which focused on the Canadian intelligence services, found that agents who were under pressure to find terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, falsely labeled an Ottawa computer consultant, Maher Arar, as a dangerous radical. They asked U.S. authorities to put him and his wife, a university economist, on the al-Qaeda "watchlist," without justification, the report said.
Arar was also listed as "an Islamic extremist individual" who was in the Washington area on Sept. 11. The report concluded that he had no involvement in Islamic extremism and was on business in San Diego that day, said the head of the inquiry commission, Ontario Justice Dennis O'Connor.
Arar, now 36, was detained by U.S. authorities as he changed planes in New York on Sept. 26, 2002. He was held for questioning for 12 days, then flown by jet to Jordan and driven to Syria. He was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan -- where he never has been -- and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for 10 months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found.
O'Connor concluded that "categorically there is no evidence" that Arar did anything wrong or was a security threat.
The case against torture has always been both practical and moral. Practical because the evidence shows, again and again, that information extracted by force is not trustworthy. You can't know whether you're hearing the truth, a lie, or some mixture of the two. Moral because we should not adopt the tactics of our enemy, lest we blur the distinction between us and them.
The latter gets a lot of focus from some on the anti-war left. And it is important. But the practical concerns are what should pique* the ears of anyone serious about fighting this war. We have already suffered systematic failures of intelligence. In trying to right our course, we should not make new errors -- errors that, in the case of Maher Arar, resulted in a grevious injustice.
*"Pique" originally read "peak," much to my current embarrassment. Dan the Man caught the error. My apologies; I'll plead a very busy schedule. (Incidentally, Slartibartfast, I'm in your neck of the woods for about the next six weeks -- off and on, with one of my "offs" taken as a quickie trip to The City, downsouth from Jesu. Drinks?)