It did not take very long for supporters of torture to claim that the information that led to Osama bin Laden‘s assassination came from the use of Bush era forms of “enhanced interrogation.” There will probably never be any conclusive proof one way or the other despite former Vice President Dick Cheney‘s insistence that torture “ultimately contributed to the success” in getting bin Laden.
Intelligence gathering is a very complicated and long-winded process. Good information comes from multiple sources. Some information may even come from the use of torture. But not much comes from the use of torture, according to the research. Experts also claim that even if torture can produce some good information, in general, it produces much more false or misleading pieces of information. In fact, one government interrogator concluded that the false information that came from the use of torture “slowed us down on the road towards Osama bin Laden and numerous other members of al-Qaeda.”
What is more interesting is the fierce insistence on legitimizing torture as an instrument of state policy and intelligence gathering. The advocates of torture argue with an intensity that probably represents their own subconscious fears and desires. The morality and human rights issues aside, torture advocates don’t seem very interested in assessing the complicated facts involved with the use of torture. They don’t seem to care about whether any useful information comes from the use of torture.
I think the reason for their myopic and missionary turn to torture is a product of power. Those with power, as I’ve argued before, turn to torture because any other method for extracting cooperation and information places them on a more equal footing with their torture targets. Engaging in the normal interrogation and establishing friendly relationships with prisoners, like so many police and intelligence officers do, means treating them as equals. They don’t want information so much as they want to preserve their power. One theologian argued that the resort to torture comes “from a power so unsure of itself that it can only lash out, not in investigation, but in revenge.” But I think it is a whole lot more. It is not just revenge. The powerful are enraged. The powerful release their outrage against those with the impudence to challenge them. Just take a look at the Mission Statement of Liz Cheney‘s Keep America Safe foundation. It begins with a discrediting of the Obama administration for appearing weak and uncertain.
Amidst the great challenges to America’s security and prosperity, the current administration too often seems uncertain, wishful, irresolute, and unwilling to stand up for America, our allies and our interests.
But it follows that unsubstantiated attack with an admission that
Since 9/11, the United States Government, through our armed forces and our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, has succeeded in preventing any further attacks on the American homeland. This is a major achievement.
Thus, we need to torture and yet our security forces have prevented many terrorist attacks. The contradiction in these two positions is, of course, about politics. They attack Obama but defend Bush. But what is interesting is that what they really seem interested in achieving is the appearance of strength and power. They conclude their mission statement with
Keep America Safe believes the United States can only defeat our adversaries and defend our interests from a position of strength. We know that America has, for 233 years, been an unparalleled force for good in the world, that our fighting forces are the best the world has ever known, and that the world is a safer place when America is trusted by our allies and feared and respected by our enemies.
Power has both substance (capacity) and appearance (fierce eyes, gnarly teeth, military regalia, etc.). Rather than face the reality that President Obama has enhanced the power of the office by not limiting it to mere force, his critics focus on what presidential power looks like with Obama in office. It looks like Cheney and other apologists for torture promote “enhanced interrogation” to remind others in the world about the greatness of their power. Or are they simply reminding themselves?