The 9-11 attacks provided an excuse for the Bush/Cheney cabal to implement many violations of international law, human rights and civil liberties. While the Orwellian ‘Patriot Act’ was rushed into law by an unhinged Congress–fueling the growth of a massive surveillance state–a new Authorization for Use of Military Force was granted to the executive branch which took the unprecedented step of declaring war on a tactic.
The War on Terror brought us the experiment of ‘pre-emptive war’ in Iraq, where, based on lies and propaganda, the U.S. invaded and occupied a country that had nothing to do with 9-11.
Another dark facet to this 21st century crusade was the invention of the term ‘enemy combatant,’ as the executive used pretzel logic to deem its targets exempt from any protections under the Geneva Conventions or other international laws protecting human rights.
The CIA began ramping up its use of ‘black sites’ where people from all over the world were whisked away to be tortured in the name of fighting terror. While countless people were disappeared at the hands of vengeful secret agents, the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay became the public focal point for America’s new prisoners of war.
For years, politicians and lawmakers insisted that torture, or ‘enhanced interrogation’ as they said, was providing valuable intelligence that prevented more terror attacks. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and former CIA director Leon Panetta were the most vociferous advocates of torture methods such as waterboarding.
Even though it was pointed out by more rational observers that torture doesn’t work, as the subjects go into panic mode and say anything to make the torture stop, the public by and large continued buying into the propaganda.
Newly declassified documents are providing more proof that torture, and especially waterboarding, has actually been counterproductive in extracting real information from prisoners.
A heavily redacted document from the CIA’s Office of Medical Services states that the cooperation from senior bin Laden aide Abu Zubaydah “did not correlate that well with his waterboard sessions.”
In fact, the detainee “probably reached the point of cooperation even prior to the August  institution of ‘enhanced’ measures – a development missed because of the narrow focus of questioning.”
Zubaydah was subjected to 83 waterboarding sessions in one month, and it seems that the only things interrogators got out of this was satiating their pleasure in carrying out torture. Other ‘enhanced’ measures such as subjecting detainees to hypothermia, beatings and long hours in stress positions were also being implemented in their sadistic program.
The conclusion of all this, 14 years after it began, is that Zubaydah was cooperating and providing actionable intelligence until he was subjected to torture. This further validates what critics have been trying to get across all this time—torture doesn’t work.
At the time, however, we were told that the information provided by Zubaydah–much of which was unreliable–was gained as a result of the waterboarding sessions. This turns out to be another lie in the compendium of War on Terror falsehoods.
Former CIA counterterrorism operations officer John Kiriakou drives the point home:
“This is just another nail in the coffin of the CIA on this torture issue. We know from the Senate report that these so-called enhanced interrogation techniques simply did not work, we knew that they constituted torture, we knew that the CIA continued to carry them out even though they claimed to deny publicly that any such program had taken place.”
He also described some of the true motivations of the torture programs.
“There was also a sense that some intelligence officers at the higher levels really were seeking vengeance, and whether there was information to gather through these techniques was really not the issue,” said Kiriakou. “They really just wanted revenge on al-Qaeda leaders for the attack that had occurred.”
Kiriakou referenced the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA torture, which detailed the extent of CIA torture, the false information provided to media and the blocking of government oversight and internal criticism.
“We also know from the Senate torture report that there were indeed CIA officers at the working level who not only opposed the enhanced interrogation program, but also curtailed their assignments overseas to headquarters, which really is a career ending move,” said Kiriakou. “My only concern is that they didn’t go public with their concerns and that the CIA was able to perpetuate this lie for all these years, more than a decade now, that this program worked.”
Waterboarding has been used in the past by Nazi Germany’s Gestapo in Norway and France, by the French in Vietnam and Algeria, and by the U.S. in the Philippines more than a century ago, according to Politifact. It has always been a poor way to extract information.
“Trinity College Dublin’s Shane O’Mara, a professor of experimental brain research, told Newsweek there is scientific evidence that waterboarding physically prevents a person from providing reliable information.
The sensation of suffocating activates survival instincts, not memory recall, O’Mara told the magazine. Furthermore, a lack of oxygen (hypoxia) hurts cognition and the increase of carbon dioxide (hypercapnia) induces panic. In effect, putting a person under severe stress to make them talk also makes it difficult for them to recall or communicate anything worth extracting.”
Despite all we know about the inefficacy of waterboarding and the fact that it amounts to torture, some politicians still deny reality. Unsurprisingly, presidential candidate Donald Trump said he would bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse.”
U.S. Senate candidate Todd Wilcox, a former CIA officer and defense contractor, said, “I can tell you that the enhanced interrogation techniques that have since been banned by this administration — specifically waterboarding — work. They work on the terrorists, and there’s a proven history of that.”
Wilcox claimed that his time as an agent gave him “access to a lot of information that the rest of the public may not know.”
But the more we learn about this secret information he referenced, the more we find that politicians such as Wilcox continue to peddle lies and propaganda in their efforts to perpetuate the injustices of the War on Terror.