One point I neglected to make in my recent post about America’s erratic support for the advocates of liberal democracy in the Middle East is that such support– no matter how well-intentioned– was too often undercut by the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the reports of waterboarding and other forms of torture practiced with the Bush administration’s approval. The damage that did to the credibility of US support for democracy and human rights was massive, and it may take years to overcome.
That’s why it was so important that one of President Obama’s first actions was to order an end to coercive interrogation methods, declaring that “our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground” in the fight against Al Qaeda.
If oppressed people are going to take our stated principles seriously, we have to show, by deeds as well as words, that we are better than that.
A former FBI interrogator who questioned al-Qaida prisoners testified Wednesday that the Bush administration falsely boasted of success from extreme techniques like waterboarding, when those methods were slow, unreliable and made an important witness stop talking.
Ali Soufan, testifying to a Senate panel behind a screen to hide his identity, said his team’s non-threatening interrogation approach elicited crucial information from al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah, including intelligence on “dirty bomb” terrorist Jose Padilla.
Soufan said his team had to step aside when CIA contractors took over. They began using harsh methods that caused Zubaydah to “shut down,” Soufan said, and his team had to be recalled the get the prisoner talking again.
A telling exchange took place at the hearing between insufferable Bush administration apologist Sen. Lindsey Graham and Soufan.
Graham: “One of the reaons these techniques [i.e., torture] have survived for 500 years is apparently they work.”
Soufan: “Because, sir, there’s a lot of people who don’t know how to interrogate, and it’s easy to hit somebody than to outsmart them.”