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What We Still Don’t Know About Torture

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Senior Bush administration officials – like former Vice President Dick Cheney – continue to insist that the use of abusive interrogation techniques like waterboarding has saved American lives.

I think statements like these are inaccurate and can be proved to be so.

A truth commission on torture, like the one Senator Leahy is now advocating, could definitively prove that the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture by US forces has made us less safe.

To begin with, commission members can examine the classified files that detail information gained by the CIA and interrogation teams at Guantanamo Bay through the use of torture. After examining the files, commission members can come to some conclusions about basic questions. Was the use of these techniques necessary? Did it result in useful intelligence?

Senior interrogators with experience facing insurgents and Al Qaeda operatives say that they believe a skilled interrogator can get a detainee to talk without resorting to brutality. They also say it is extremely unlikely that any information obtained through torture is credible.

They point to the case of Al Libi, an Al Qaeda lieutenant who was rendered to the Egyptians for torture even though he was cooperating. Under duress he provided evidence of a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Secretary Powell used Al Libi’s information in his speech to the U.N. supporting the invasion of Iraq. Only later did the Secretary learn that the evidence was obtained through torture. And only later was it proven that the evidence Al Libi provided was inaccurate. It is likely Al Libi made it up to make the pain stop.

Given this experience a thorough review of all information obtained through torture is warranted.

A truth commission could also perform a sophisticated cost-benefit analysis which would assess the damage done to U.S. interests due to the use of torture against the gains made in the interrogation room when these methods were employed. My guess is that the unintended consequences of employing these techniques far outweighs the benefits.

Definitive answers to these questions – rendered by a non-partisan commission with unimpeachable integrity – would help end the public debate in this country about the use of torture.

As Senator Leahy has said, "we need to read the page before we turn the page."

David Danzig directs the Primetime Torture Project at Human Rights First, a New York City-based international human rights organization.

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