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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Military Memo: It's Torture… AND It Doesn't Work

WaPo reports Friday evening that in July 2002 the military agency which provided information and advice on enhanced interrogation techniques to be used against terrorism suspects referred to the employment of tactics which caused “extreme duress” as “torture” and specifically stated that the use of such techniques would result in the attainment of “unreliable information”.

From WaPo:

But the [Joint Personnel Recovery Agency’s] two-page attachment, titled “Operational Issues Pertaining to the Use of Physical/Psychological Coercion in Interrogation,” questioned the effectiveness of employing extreme duress to gain intelligence.

“The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible — in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life — has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture,” the document said. “In essence, physical and/or psychological duress are viewed as an alternative to the more time-consuming conventional interrogation process. The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate information. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption.

The Washington Post, emphasis mine

Image taken directly from the JPRA memo

Operational concerns of harsh interrogation techniques included:

(U) As noted previously, upwards of 90 percent of interrogations have been successful through the exclusive use of a direct approach, where a degree of rapport is established with the prisoner. Once any means of duress has been purposefully applied to the prisoner, the formerly cooperative relationship cannot be reestablished. In addition, the prisoner’s level of resolve to resist cooperating with the interrogator will likely be increased as a result of harsh or brutal treatment.

(U) For skilled interrogators, the observation of subtle nonverbal behaviors provides an invaluable assessment of the prisoner’s psychological and emotional state. This offers important insights into how the prisoner can most effectively be leveraged into compliance. Further, it often enables the interrogator to form a reasonably accurate assessment of the prisoner’s veracity in answering pertinent questions. The prisoner’s physical response to the pain inflicted by an interrogator would obliterate such nuance and deprive the interrogator of these key tools.

(U) The key operational deficits related to the use of torture is its impact on the reliability and accuracy of the information provided. If an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt. In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop.

JPRA memo, emphasis mine

So here we have a military agency referring to harsh interrogation tactics as torture and warning that they don’t work, either because they increase the prisoner’s resistance to the interrogator, or because they coerce the prisoner into giving false information “in order to get the pain to stop.”

And the Shrub administration ignored it.

And will someone please shut Sean Hannity the hell up? Waterboarding for charity? Look, I’d like to see Hannity tortured as much as anyone, but this isn’t a joke. He’s trivializing the practice. Being waterboarded for a few seconds for charity by your buddies in a controlled environment when you’re completely free to make the motion to STOP is a far cry from being waterboarded repeatedly by a bunch of strangers in a prison cell, locked away from your family and friends, not knowing whether you’ll ever see them again, and uncertain whether your interrogators torturers might let you drown this time. If he goes through with it all I can say is, I hope he’s one of the ones they have to trach. At least that might shut him up for a solid 10 minutes. I am disgusted.


  1. …especially with the release of hundreds of prisoner interrogation photos from the Pentagon, which will show the Abu Ghraib was not a one off event, set off by some malevolent guards in one prison, but a sustained and systematic practice, pointing back to some very high levels of command at the Pentagon and in Government.

    Whether indictments are forthcoming or not, I truly believe the Obama administration has no choice but to tell it all, and tell it quick. Though legal processes from Watergate to Kenneth Starr have marred and vitiated US political life, the failure to investigate properly, from the Warren Commission, is also a stain on US public probity.

    Sricki – your picture also reveals something else which few right wing republicans, howling now their crimes have been revealed, seem to care to forget. In the Second World War, Korea and even Vietnam, where many many more lives were lost, and the national security stakes couldn’t have been much higher, there was much less tolerance of torture and prisoner abuse in the public culture.

    The current reaction by some in the states is just an indication how much the right, and particularly the chicken hawk shock jocks and their ilk who have dominated the last two decades, have coarsened public sensibility.

    For all their Christianist rhetoric, and claims to uphold ‘values’, the Republicans have revealed themselves as the party with no moral values at all.  

  2. HappyinVT

    I initially cheered Olbermann when he said he’d donate $1000 per second that Hannity lasted.  I was reminded, however, that this isn’t something that should be treated like a joke and to Hannity that’s about all this is.  In addition, there’s no way to simulate what Abu Zabaydah and KSM went through.  It would be gratifying to watch Hannity cry like a baby after a couple of seconds but trivializing torture is wrong and I hope Keith rescinds his offer.

    Christopher Hitchens lasted about 17 seconds and I’ll take him at his word when he called it torture.

  3. HappyinVT

    I’m concerned that this is going to consume Obama’s first term to the exclusion of all else.  However, the more that comes out the more I’m thinking we cannot let this go.

    Cheney is requesting partial release of CIA memos that he had in a OVP file labelled “detainees.”  These memos are from a time period well after Zabaydah and KSM were interrogated.  So, why these memos and why not all of each?

    We now know that someone received information that the techniques the administration wanted to use didn’t work.  They received this information from the agency, JPRA, that oversaw the SERE program and, presumably would have some of the best information on the subject.  Yet, it appears this information was ignored.  Who exactly knew about the JPRA memo and why was it ignored?

    The Bybee memo was rescinded by a subsequent OLC memo from Goldsmith whose memo was in kind rescinded by the Bradbury memos.  On whose orders and why?

    The FBI pulled its agents out of the interrogations because they believed it was torture.  What does the FBI director have to say?

    What does John Rizzo, the Acting General Counsel of the CIA (still on the job) have to say about the opinions he received from OLC?  He’s a lawyer who should have seen the tangled logic used to justify the techniques.  What did he say and why?

    There is new information that Rumsfeld (or at least Addington) knew about what was going on at Abu Ghraib.  Did he and why was it authorized, if it was?

    I guess my point is while there is so much coming out the information raises as many questions as it answers.

    I truly hope that DOJ takes the lead on this.  An independent commission authorized by Congress is a waste of time and will only serve to politize this even further.  There’s also any number of committees already doing their own investigations.

    And, Obama needs to shut up about this.  The only thing I want the White House staff to say is that the president has made his position clear and that he’s going to let Congress and/or DOJ do their thing while he works on advancing his agenda re: healthcare, education, and climate change.

  4. spacemanspiff

    Why are we even thinking about the possibility that he won’t?

    If he doesn’t he will lose A LOT of love from me, a well known bot.

  5. This is Sully at his best.

    The title is “Mr. Broder wants us to move on

    Sully starts off with:

    Well, of course he does. But the idea that this is about vengeance is a piece of fantasy. Or as Hilzoy nicely puts it, “Who died and made David Broder Sigmund Freud?”

    He goes on to say:

    If I had one belief in politics, it would be that the freedoms secured by the modern West are worth fighting for. Absolutely central to those freedoms is barring the executive branch from torturing people. No power is more fatal to freedom and the rule of law than torture. It is like Tolkien’s ring: no society remains free, if its rulers use it. Its power is banned because it is a solvent to the rule of law, the establishment of truth, and the limits of government….

    ..Punishing those responsible for war crimes is not “scapegoating”. You know what scapegoating is? It’s throwing Lynndie England in jail for following orders given by George W. Bush, while leaving him to the luxury of a Texan suburb.

    The precedent of a torturing American president must be reversed. That means it cannot be allowed to stand.

    We don’t want vengeance.  We want America back. And we are going to fight on and on until we get it back.

    Some on the Left still despise or even hate Sullivan for the way he went after Hillary. Some on the Right hate him for the way he went after Palin. Like him or despise him, you have to give him credit for his consistent stance on the torture issue. He has been a leading voice on this issue. Perhaps the most prominent one. I salute him for that.

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