The one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden has reignited public debate over the effectiveness of harsh interrogation techniques in U.S. antiterrorism efforts.
The discussion is welcomed by an ex-CIA official who has published a book defending controversial interrogation techniques such as simulated drowning, also known as water boarding, as needed to save American lives.
That might have been the case when fictional spy Jack Bauer would save the day on the old TV series 24, but top officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, have dismissed the notion that torture produced the intelligence that led to bin Laden's lair.
The Senate Intelligence Committee's exhaustive review of CIA documents on prisoner interrogations reportedly has found that the "hard measures" former CIA clandestine operations chief Jose Rodriguez takes as the title for his book generally were of little use after 9/11. In fact, the panel found that tactics authorized by then-President George W. Bush may have yielded false leads.
With its nearly three-year evaluation of the harsh interrogation tactics — a review that the CIA itself says it has not performed — the Senate will be doing the nation a great service when it releases the final report, as groups like Human Rights First are urging.
That cannot happen soon enough. Exposing the details of CIA interrogations, and possible abuses that occurred before harsh tactics were banned by President Obama, is needed to further dispel the notion that torture works.
Many intelligence professionals believe harsh interrogation tactics merely prompt prisoners under stress to say anything, including fabricated information. Military experts add that prisoner abuse puts American soldiers at greater risk of being mistreated when they are captured.
Support for torture tactics is based on the false premise that the ends justify the means. But a nation that places so much emphasis on civil rights shouldn't resort to violating international standards for the humane treatment of prisoners out of fear, much less an untested belief that such tactics will keep citizens safe.