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On CNN, Hayden debunks ticking time-bomb

Gearing up for Zero Dark Thirty’s chance at an Oscar tonight, CNN’s favorite foreign policy wonk cum plagiarist has been interviewing a Bush-era torture apologist about “enhanced interrogation.”

Which is to say: Fareed Zakaria and Michael Hayden have been indulging in a session of Beltway-groupthink mutual masturbation.

Hayden’s taken this opportunity to reveal–and not for the first time–that torture did not prevent, and was not even intended to prevent, any impending terrorist attacks.

What’s interesting about today’s interview is that Hayden began talking about torture in response to a question about “winning the hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people. (Note that, in 2005, Bush defended the Iraq War by claiming that “hearts and minds are opening to the message of human liberty as never before.)

Hayden cited “enhanced interrogation” as a means of opening detainees’ hearts and minds. Torture, according to Hayden, brought detainees into a “zone of cooperation.”

I don’t think a transcript or video clip of today’s interview is yet available online (if you find one, please let me know so I can link to it), but Hayden’s made similar statements before.

Back in 2011, Hayden went on Zakaria’s show and said much the same thing he did today:

And the lead information I referred to a few minutes ago did come from CIA detainees, against whom enhanced interrogation techniques have been used, not to elicit specific bits of information, but move them from their initial air of defiance into a zone of cooperation.

Before taking this statement apart, let’s recall the “ticking time bomb” scenario often invoked to defend “enhanced interrogation.” It’s something like this: A suspected terrorist is believed to know about an impending terrorist attack. The only way to extract this information is to torture the terrorist. Our suspected terrorist, of course, is a hardened zealot who will not respond to any questioning less painful than thumbscrews and the rack.

Bush administration officials turned countless times to this scenario in justifying their “enhanced interrogation” policies. Here’s a link to just one example among many:

He [a “senior Bush administration official”] cited as an example a ”ticking time bomb” scenario, in which a detainee is believed to have information that could prevent a planned terrorist attack.

Seeing a contradiction? Hayden, the architect of the administration’s torture policy, has now admitted multiple times that no time bomb was ever ticking. Yet the Bush administration raised this specter over and over again in defense of torture.

What we’re left with is a justification that’s decidedly more distasteful: The Bush administration used torture to break alleged terrorists, people who were deprived of due process and denied any real opportunity to challenge the charges against them.

Hayden and others in the CIA understood that torture is unreliable, at best, in extracting “specific bits of information” from a detainee.

Instead, as Hayden stated today on Fareed Zakaria GPS, the CIA subjected about one-third of alleged terrorist detainees to “enhanced interrogation techniques” for the sake of moving them from an “air of defiance” into a “zone of cooperation.” (He used that same language not only in the 2011 interview to which I’ve linked but in his interview today).

As I said: The purpose of Bush-era torture was to break down human beings, a la Winston Smith in 1984, who may or may not have been implicated in terrorism (without public trials, we’ll never know).

The purpose of our country’s torturing detainees was to crush their hopes, to strangle their spirits, and thereby to render them desperate enough to say what CIA interrogators wanted to hear.

There was never a ticking time-bomb. Even if there had been, Hayden’s comments–on Zakaria’s show and elsewhere–make it clear that the CIA recognized that torture would be unlikely to defuse a ticking time-bomb, anyway.

Instead, “enhanced interrogation” served as a means of slapping, sleep-depriving, and drowning detainees into submission.

Also posted on Daily Kos

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