When Our Pundits Excuse Torture

By David Swanson

While much of elite US punditry is backing away from torture, Jeff Jacoby is claiming to have opposed it but to now find it excusable. His Boston Globe column takes a very “balanced” approach. He both opposes torture under all circumstances AND excuses it given the current circumstances:

“I contended that the cruel abuse of terrorist detainees was something we could never countenance – not just because torture is illegal, unreliable, and a threat to the innocent, but because it is one of those practices that a civilized society cannot engage in without undermining its right to call itself civilized.”


“Yet the Bush-era memos strike me as much more thoughtful than most of the moral preening and tendentious grandstanding they set off.”


“What’s missing from all this sanctimony and censure is any acknowledgement of the circumstances under which the CIA interrogations took place, let alone the successes with which they have been credited.”


Wait for it …

“One result was the foiling of Al Qaeda’s planned “Second Wave” – a 9/11-like plot to crash a hijacked airliner into a Los Angeles skyscraper.”

In his 2007 State of the Union address, Bush claimed: “We stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast.”

However, an October 8, 2005, LA Times story, headlined “Scope of Plots Bush Says Were Foiled Is Questioned,” cited “several counter-terrorism officials” as saying that “the plot never progressed past the planning stages…. ‘To take that and make it into a disrupted plot is just ludicrous,’ said one senior FBI official….At most it was a plan that was stopped in its initial stages and was not an operational plot that had been disrupted by authorities.”

On Feb. 10, 2006, the LA Times quoted a “US official familiar with the operational aspects of the war on terrorism,” who said that “the Library Tower plot was one of many Al Qaeda operations that had not gone much past the conceptual stage….The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying that those familiar with the plot feared political retaliation for providing a different characterization of the plan that that of the president.”

Michael Scheuer, an al Qaeda expert in the CIA’s counter-terrorism center, told the Voice of America: “This doesn’t sound like anything that I would recall as a major threat, or as a major success in stopping it….My impression [was that the National Security Council] culled through information to look for something that resembled a serious threat in 2002. It doesn’t strike me, either as someone who was there or as someone who has followed al Qaeda pretty closely, that this was really a serious sort of effort.”

A February 10, 2006 Washington Post story cited “several U.S. intelligence officials” who “said there is deep disagreement within the intelligence community over the seriousness of the Library Tower scheme and whether it was ever much more than talk.”

A February 10, 2006, New York Daily News story cited one senior counterterrorism official who said: “There was no definitive plot. It never materialized or got past the thought stage.”

Back on June 17, 2004, the New York Daily News quoted John Pistole, the FBI’s counterterrorism director. Asked to comment on a CIA agent’s statement that “I think we’ve probably prevented a few aviation attacks against both the East and West coasts,” Pistole at first said he was “not sure what [the CIA] was referring to.” The Daily News reported that “Even after consulting CIA officials, Pistole still would not call the alleged threat uncovered in the summer of 2003 an advanced plot.”

Bush and his supporters have claimed other similar successes that have all turned out to be fictional. Most are more off-base than this one.

[UPDATE: And this is crazier than I thought because the supposed breaking up of this “plot” occured BEFORE the torturing of the guy whose information supposedly allowed that to occur.]

Missing from this discussion is the fact that we have already learned that more useful information was obtained prior to torturing than after, and that much of the “intelligence” produced by tortures produced wild-goose chases and excuses to scare people — just as the whole regime of torture is clearly meant to scare us into believing in the existence of subhuman monsters who only respond to brute force.

I wonder if Jacoby believes that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed produced some sort of vital life-saving information (never mind the FBI and CIA’s denials) immediately following his 183rd water boarding. Because if he produced it after the 182nd, Jacoby will need a new argument to excuse the 183rd round. And if he believes that the sadistic madness of administering the water torture to a human being 183 times can possibly have produced anything other than suffering on the one hand, and hatred and brutalization on the other, he should probably look for a different career.

Oh, wait. He’s a newspaper columnist. Never mind.

Jacoby argues that government officials’ fear permits them to break laws. But when you or I break laws because we are afraid, we go to jail. There’s something about the very notion of having laws that is destroyed if you can toss them out because official long-considered policies were carefully designed around an enduring and self-indulgent panic.

In addition, absent from all such Yes-Mr.-Cheney opinionating is the fact that our military, the FBI, and observers around the world have found torture by the United States to be the single most effective recruiting tool for anti-U.S. terrorist groups.

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