Bush White House: We Stop Torturing When We Get What We Want

This post, written by Steve Benen, originally appeared on The Carpetbagger Report

The debate over U.S. torture policy erupted yesterday on the Hill, in the wake of yesterday's NYT blockbuster, highlighting secret legal opinions from the Bush administration, which endorsed "the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency." After insisting publicly that "torture is abhorrent," Bush officials "provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics," including simulated drownings and freezing temperatures.

The president's aides fanned out to deny, defend, and spin the revelations, but for my money, the most impressive argument came by way of Frances Fragos Townsend.
White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend also dismissed objections to the CIA program yesterday, saying during an appearance on CNN that al-Qaeda members are trained to resist harsh interrogations. She said that "we start with the least harsh measures first" and stop the progression "if someone becomes cooperative."
Now, this is amazing for a couple of reasons. First, the notion of being trained to resist drownings has always seemed rather far-fetched. Unless al Qaeda has figured out a way to equip terrorists with gills, there isn't much anyone can to prepare for waterboarding.

But it's that second part that's particularly noteworthy. As Townsend described it, on national television, the painful physical and psychological tactics, which are unlawful, are suspended when the detainees "becomes cooperative." In other words, "We stop torturing when we get what we want out of the suspect."

That's not a defense for abuse; that's insane. Townsend is arguing that we stop torturing people after they give us the intelligence we've beaten out of them? That's supposed to make us feel better about abusive, illegal interrogation techniques?

This is exactly why torture produces unreliable information -- the tortured will simply say anything to get the abuse to stop. The detainees become desperate to be "cooperative," whether they have the intelligence officials have or not. Townsend's defense, in this sense, is patently ridiculous.
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