There's an article in yesterday's New York Times by Mark Danner called "Tales From Torture's Dark World," that details what supposedly happened to terrorists at CIA black sites. No doubt the usual suspects will be all over this, screaming about the horrors of the evil Bush regime. But for the more rational, there are several things to keep in mind about the article. First, these descriptions are based entirely on the stories told by terrorists to the Red Cross. Yes, really. The author foolishly accepts them as credible, because he thinks the similarities must mean they are true. I'm sure people like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and the planner of the Cole bombing can be trusted not to twist the truth, exaggerate, or outright lie. When the author calls his title, "Tales," he's accurately reflecting the weight we should give to these stories. But for the purposes of argument, I'm going to assume they are true.
Second, Danner admits that the people he is talking about are not innocents.
From everything we know, many or all of these men deserve to be tried and punished — to be “brought to justice,” as President Bush vowed they would be.
They aren't mere suspects picked up in a sweep, or even low-level types unlikely to have critical information. These are known terrorist leaders. The author argues that because they were tortured it won't be possible to achieve "justice." This is nonsense. If justice isn't achieved, it will be because of people who think like him, who put blind legalism above rationality. He also misses the obvious, as do many who make this legalist argument. If the U.S. captures someone assumed to have critical information necessary to protect the country, getting that information is far more important than the eventual disposition of that person.
Finally, the author also notes that
it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States.Even though I disagree with most of Danner's analyses and conclusions, I respect his honesty, which is more than can be said for many of those writing against torture. The vast majority of the people complaining about torture and pretending that it wasn't effective, don't have the slightest idea what intelligence was or was not gained from these methods. We'll probably never know for sure.
The individuals detailed in this article were "high value" terrorist leaders. They are in effect civilians who decided to wage war against the U.S. They respect no laws or rules, and deliberately targeted civilians. By the customary laws of war, such enemies are subject to summary execution upon capture. The U.S. was fully justified in using any means necessary -- including far more extreme torture than anything claimed -- to extract information from them. Once interrogations were complete, each of them should have been sentenced to death by military tribunal and executed. The only injustice here is that they are still alive.