John Kiriakou has completed his Gee It's Sad That We Have To Torture People Tour, and the media has nodded sagely over his every word. While a few media stories headlined Kiriakou's regret over using torture, his real message went out loud and clear to the right wing nutosphere.
Like that old Gary Larson cartoon, in which a dog picks only its name out of a string of words, pro-torture Republicans discarded every other part of the conversation and seized on the message. Torture Works Great! as presented here by talk radio suppuration, Mark Davis.
The debate is over torture. Mr. Kiriakou is a retired CIA agent who has seen a detainee waterboarded.
And it worked. He was part of the undercover team in Faisalabad, Pakistan, that interrogated Abu Zubaydah, the first major al-Qaeda figure captured in the months following 9/11.
Mr. Zubaydah helped plan those attacks, and the CIA had high confidence that he knew of other murderous plans. Early questioning was fruitless. "We knew he was the biggest fish we had caught, we knew he was full of information, and we wanted to get it," Mr. Kiriakou told ABC's Brian Ross.
About 35 seconds later, Mr. Zubaydah was ready to talk. "From that day on, he answered every question," Mr. Kiriakou recalls, and they were not the useless, desperate replies that waterboarding opponents insist are the procedure's only result. "The threat information he provided prevented a number of attacks."
In a sensible era, that's it. Case closed. But these days are not so simple. Our war effort is hampered by the finger wagging and hand wringing of people who cannot tolerate winning on those terms.
That's the view fostered on the right by Kiriakou's media blitz. Torture good, concern over the morality of torture treasonous. The story as laid out by Kiriakou was like a 220v cable wired straight into the Republican pleasure center. We caught a major al-Qaeda baddie, a tough old hombre, who wouldn't tell us a thing until we tortured him. Then he folded like a baby and couldn't stop blabbing. Best of all, that data was pure gold, directly stopping "dozens" of operations and saving red-blooded American lives.
We have heard much from the portion of America that grows queasy at the thought of tough treatment for al-Qaeda detainees. But I'll share what makes me queasy: my countrymen in tattered clothes perched at windows a thousand feet high against the Manhattan skyline, their lungs burning with jet fuel, making the decision to jump to their deaths because it was a better fate than what awaited them if they did not.
Against the backdrop of that memory, anyone worked up about the occasional, carefully targeted waterboarding is simply not serious about protecting our nation.
Got it? Waterboard, or die.
Now that the Torture Works meme has been reinforced to the satisfaction of every right wing blog and Republicans everywhere have had the chance to brag about how they braved harsher treatment in Intro to Swimming, the media has allowed Kiriakou to go count the contracts rolling into his private sercurity firm. However, the Washington Post has turned up a few questions about his story.
Was Abu Zubaydah a major al-Qaeda operative, vital to the planning of 9/11?
... some FBI agents and analysts say he is largely a loudmouthed and mentally troubled hotelier whose credibility dropped as the CIA subjected him to a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding and to other "enhanced interrogation" measures.
But surely this was a man who we just had to freeze, beat, threaten, deprive of sleep, and finally waterboard. It saved lives, damn it!
Bush has sided publicly with the CIA's version of events. "We knew that Zubaida had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking," Bush said in September 2006. "And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures," which the president said prompted Abu Zubaida to disclose information leading to the capture of Sept. 11, 2001, plotter Ramzi Binalshibh.
But former FBI officials privy to details of the case continue to dispute the CIA's account of the effectiveness of the harsh measures, making the record of Abu Zubaydah's interrogation hard for outsiders to assess.
I suppose it's easy to see where there could be conflict. On the one hand, both Bush and the CIA need to demonstrate that this information was vital in order to justify violating dozens of treaties and judicial rulings. The FBI's view is distorted by their selfish desire to tell the truth and uphold the law.
As it turns out, both the CIA and the FBI agree that Abu Zubaydah provided some important information. Want to guess when?
There is little dispute, according to officials from both agencies, that Abu Zubaydah provided some valuable intelligence before CIA interrogators began to rough him up, including information that helped identify Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla.
Far from supporting Kiriakou's pitiful story, the evidence shows that everything we got worth knowing from Abu Zubaydah came before he was tortured. Afterwards.
But FBI officials, including agents who questioned him after his capture or reviewed documents seized from his home, have concluded that even though he knew some al-Qaeda players, he provided interrogators with increasingly dubious information as the CIA's harsh treatment intensified in late 2002.
In other words, the results of torture were exactly the sort of "useless, desperate replies that waterboarding opponents insist are the procedure's only result." I'm guessing that the wingnuts won't be issuing a retraction.