CIA torture program under debate

Pulled fingernails, cuts with acid, tooth wrenching, when discussing torture, many of these infamous methods come to mind. For many Americans, torture is not something that should be debated about. However, like many other things that people have objected to torture is now back into debate among the American populous. In my opinion it should not be a debate, not because I find it inhumane, but because I believe it hurts America more than it helps. More importantly, I think media and Hollywood coverage has altered our perception away from the reality of the situation.

To start, waterboarding is not as widespread as we think. According to a Senate intelligence report which covered more than 6.3 million pages of documents, since 2001, only three detainees have been waterboarded. More common, however, were methods such as sleep deprivation, where detainees were forced to stay awake for up to 180 hours, exposed to cold and prolonged standing. The Senate knows we have used these “enhanced interrogation” techniques on 39 detainees. This is not to say those techniques are worse than waterboarding, as they have the same effect mentally, and while waterboarding has not killed anyone, one detainee was killed due to hypothermia.

Whether these methods were wrong is still a relatively subjective question, so the real question is did it work? The Senate report has a clear stance, stating, “The use of the Central Intelligence Agency’s enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.”

Indeed, there is not an example where valuable counter terrorism information was obtained through enhanced interrogation methods. One of the reasons for this is that with interrogations is that there is no way of guaranteeing the information they are sharing is useful, and it is easy for detainees to send authorities on a false lead by providing false information.

The only way authorities can prevent this is by employing extremely talented interrogators who can discern responses, using microemotions (emotions that humans have little to no control over that tell whether a person is truthful). When you torture someone and put them through immense amounts of stress, these micromotions go away because their dominant emotion is pain and it is the only emotion expressed, rendering the interrogators talents useless.

In addition to being ineffective for intelligence, torture has been an effective recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda,  as it is regarded by many as the number one reason men joined extremist groups. In the words of Matthew Alexander, leader of an interrogations team assigned to a Special Operations task force in Iraq,Torture and abuse cost American lives…I learned in Iraq that the number one reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq…How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”

Abu Zubaydah, who when detained was speaking openly with Federal Bureau of Investigation interrogators who wanted to build a relationship with him to gain information until James Mitchell, the head psychologist overseeing their torture program, successfully lobbied to torture him. From then on he was tortured 83 times in one month, which produced no information. Torture is not effective, counterproductive and brings us down to our enemies level. In the words of General David Petraeus, a man who has more experience with counterinsurgency in Iraq and has won the approval of both George Bush and Barack Obama, “Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.”