4-27-2012By Jim Clemente
Retired Special Agent, FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit
This post is part of a series, “Interrogators Speak Out Against Torture,” organized by Human Rights First.
Another round of torture debates is soon to ensue on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA agent notorious for destroying ‘the torture tapes,’ will release his new book, Hard Measures, on the same date. Rodriguez argues that torture is required to get the information needed to thwart terrorist attacks and save lives. In other words, like his former bosses George Bush and Dick Cheney, he is saying that torture works.
But before we get into those arguments, let’s back up a second. Because to have an honest evaluation of the definition of ‘works’ when the torture advocates say torture ‘works,’ we have to start with all the relevant data. Some of that data was lost when Rodriguez destroyed the torture tapes, which makes one wonder — if torture was so effective, why didn’t he simply release the tapes to the public (with classified portions redacted) so that we could judge for ourselves? Those tapes were just a small fraction of the amount of information available on detainee matters.
Perhaps the largest accumulation of data on interrogation practices post-9/11 is the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SSCI) comprehensive report on detainee handling. Since President Obama made transparency a cornerstone of his administration, I call on him and the SSCI to release the full report to the public. The president lived up to his transparency promise when he released the ‘torture memos.’ It’s time for him to do so again.
Once we have all the data, then we can account for all the negative long-term consequences of torture as well as any alleged short-term benefits. We can consider the fact that it helped al Qaeda to recruit thousands of new members, degraded America’s ability to preach for the rule of law to other countries, made other detainees less willing to cooperate, and a host of other consequences. When these factors have been weighed, then we can decide in totality whether or not torture works. I’m sure the conclusion won’t be the one backed by Rodriguez’ bravado. In the end, all the tough-guy talk won’t be enough to counter the fact that torture cost American lives, it didn’t save them.