Has U.S. Interrogations Actually Saved Lives

I’m doing my best to phrase this in a GQ manner, since it’s a very loaded question.

Defenders of the interrogation techniques used by the USA have an argument that “You can save lives with the kind of information…” That is, the ends are good enough to justify the means. (That’s quoted from here, but the argument is made in many places.)

Are there documented cases of lives saved due to information gotten from these techniques, that wouldn’t have been gotten by previous standards of interrogations?

Seems like a Great Debate to me.

The answer seems to be that we do not know. Such interrogations are very secret and we can imagine that some plot or another was foiled and the public never told. On the other hand, such interrogations are very secret and we can imagine they are producing no useful information at all. Take you pick.

I understand The New York has a current article on this subject.

There is no possible way to know. The subject of such interrogations is highly classified. And without a time machine, there’s no way to know if such information actually saved lives or not.

It certainly **may ** be that there are documented cases we won’t know about for a long time. And if no one knows of any documented cases, I understand that doesn’t prove there aren’t any.

On the other hand, the government has a huge PR incentive to show that the techniques are actually doing something. And there’s certainly a possibility that there **may ** be some cases that are in the public realm.

Paul, do you have a link to that article? Are you referring to the NYT or the New Yorker?

I would think in most cases it would be difficult, if not impossible, to determine this. If a small piece of data leads to uncovering other small pieces or connections and those in turn add up to, or support current data of, the intent to do harm, how can the original bit claim to be life-saving. I doubt many are a “His name is this, and he is located here…” kinda thing. Pieces of a large and complex puzzle without a box cover to look at for help. IMHO of course.

Impossible to quantify. And even more difficult if you ask the question “Could this information have been obtained in other ways?” Some of the useful information could have, with the interrogations merely confirming things.

It’s not impossible. It may be, but I’m surprised at everyone pre-judging that there **couldn’t ** be this information. Maybe there isn’t. If there isn’t, it doesn’t prove anything one way or the other. Or maybe there is, and it does prove it.

No one in the posts above did actually make a prejudgment. Nor do I. One thing I will say is that it seems exceedingly unlikely that anyone who has been held in Guantanimo for five years possesses any useful information whatever, even if some of them once did.

Another possibility:

Let’s say hypothetically an Al Queda agent is captured in London doing something, like trying to buy explosives. He was merely told to go to location “x”, pick up a box from some dude on a loading dock, hand him an envelope. There might have been others who were supposed to carry the bombs to multiple targets, but they too remain unidentified.

How would we know how many lives were saved?

The answer could be yes – it is possible, but likely unknown.

The broader issue is whether it is in the best interest of the country in the long run, which is fodder for GD. Does it weaken us and bring us down so that a greater harm is caused to the country?

Won’t see you in GD, but enjoy your time there.

MOved to Great Debates. YOu can still get factual answers there, and it allows for more latitude in answering the question.

samclem GQ moderator

It seems more likely to cost lives, and hurt those it doesn’t kill. You don’t get good information from torture; you get what you want to hear. So, you are simultaneously heading off after wild goose chases, torturing someone who may very well be innocent of wrongdoing, and silencing him as a useful source if he really has useful information. Plus, you smear America’s reputation that much more, recruit more enemies, and make third parties more likely to simply not care about stopping attacks against us.

I think it runs along the lines of: Agency A attempts to use torture to extract valuable information, which doesn’t really work. Agency A is not about to admit that it’s methods don’t work though, so it claims success. Agency B, hearing that Agency B is claiming success using torture, jumps on the bandwagon, getting the same results but also cannot admit to failure. More agencies use the unconfirmed and vague “successes” as evidence.

I think it runs along the lines of: Agency A attempts to use torture to extract valuable information, which doesn’t really work. Agency A is not about to admit that it’s methods don’t work though, so it claims success. Agency B, hearing that Agency A is claiming success using torture, jumps on the bandwagon, getting the same results but also cannot admit to failure. More agencies use the unconfirmed and vague “successes” as evidence.

If I were a vile terrorist, skulking about on missions of ill intent, and one of my guys is captured: I’m going to assume that the CIA knows everything he knows, whether they pulled out his fingernails or simply offered him cash. Any thing he knew is compromised, any plans he was privy to are to be scrapped, anyone he can finger is “blown”.

This is rudimentary procedure for clandestine and terrorist organizations. Which is why information is carefully compartmentalized, why members only know each other by their “nicknames”. If our terrorist opponents follow this common sense approach, there is no advantage whatever it torturing prisoners for information, they can only tell you what they know, and make up the rest to get you to leave off.

We degrade ourselves for nothing.

In a word, no. I only read a mention of the New Yorker article on Andrew Sullivan.

It’s not only the possibility that torture saves lives you have to look at. There’s also the possibility that it costs lives.

It can easily be imagined that fear of torture will turn away possibly informants or even drive away possible allies. And on top of that is the high risk of bad information (you get what you want to hear) that can divert resources away from more likely investigations.

My personal point of view is that a nations moral worth is more valuable than temporary safety.

Well, thanks for nothing all.

Was that directed at me? If so, I find it uncalled for.

I printed out The New Yorker article “Black Sites” and read it over breakfast. It is well worth your time and is here.

I’m not sure why you are quite so huffy. As has already been pointed out in different ways, it is not in the interest of the government to proclaim, or even acknowldge, torture related information on several levels:

The administration wants to pretend that we do not use torture, because we’re the “good guys” (despite several efforts by administration spokespersons to redefine torture to require increasingly higher levels of abuse).

If the administration did get genuine information as the result of torture, admitting that torture was used would set up a massive outcry against the U.S.

Due to the first two situations, no tortured person can ever be released to tell the tale and no information derived from torture can be linked to the interrogation.

If some rogue agent wanted to play Jack Bauer on the international stage, that agent would have to be prepared to resign from whatever U.S. agency employed him or her and leave the country for Egypt or Syria or somewhere out of reach of international law, and would probably have to have an event like a suitcase nuke exploding over the Nevada desert to even admit that an event had taken place.
In one way or another, each of these points has been mentioned in the preceding posts.
Being upset that genuinely secret information has actually remained secret is hardly a good reason to express displeasure with those of us who do not even work inside the secret agencies.

Now, I am not sure whether the following is the article mentioned, above, but the New Yorker, on February 14, 2005, ran an article, “Outsourcing Torture” that provided a close (but still outsider’s) view of the history and apparent abuses of the “extraordinary rendition” program. Beginning on page 6, ex-FBI agent Jack Cloonan describes the history of the interrogation of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, the head of an al Qaida training camp. Cloonan notes the differences in approaches taken by the FBI and CIA, makes the claim that the FBI thought that they were getting good information regarding al Qaida internal organization while the CIA wanted to get more information faster, regarding al Qaida operations that Cloonan believes would have been unknown by a training camp administrator. At some point, the CIA took Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi out of the interrogation process and shipped him off to Egypt for more intense interrogation. Later, the administration made the claim that a high-ranking al Qaida member questioned in Egypt had led them to evidence of cooperation between Iraq and al Qaida–information that we now know (well, we knew it then, too) was false, although it was one more lie used to rationalize our invasion of Iraq. Cloonan asserts that at that point, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi was the only “high ranking” al Qaida leader in captivity and that the location of the “questioning,” Egypt, seemed a bit too coincidental.
It would be only a small stretch to claim that torture resulted in far more deaths and destruction, in this case. It certainly did not save any lives. (Of course, the administration was going to invade Iraq even without this “information,” so I would not claim that the torture was the direct cause of the Iraq mess.)