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Andrea Lyon

Andrea Lyon

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Torture Apologists Should Beware

Posted: 05/10/11 12:59 PM ET

Since the death of Osama bin Laden, there has been some talk that torture works. Never mind months and months of careful analysis of clues from many sources. Never mind that no one -- not the Bush administration or anyone else -- relied on the statements made by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who knew someone who turned out was Osama bin Laden's courier. The CIA eventually located the man and followed him to the house where bin Laden was killed. Voila! The information from Mohammed vindicates any means that were used to extract it. As reported in Reason magazine, though, it turns out that Mohammed lied about the courier, saying he was a retired nobody. From this, CIA officials now claim, they knew the guy had to be a big deal. It was a crucial clue. You see, if he lied it worked, if he told the truth it worked, and if he said nothing, well that worked too. Ah, logic.

This view makes no sense unless you are of the school that we can do what we want but "they" can't. If anyone treated any American person the way that we treated the rightly despised Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, we would not tolerate it, nor should we. We would call that torture, which is what it is. You do not nearly drown someone 183 times and call that "enhanced interrogation." It's torture. We need to part with the euphemisms that apologists like John Yoo, Michael Mukasey and others use.

We also should pay attention to what good interrogators know: Torture isn't necessary. Not only that, torture often leads to incorrect information which has resulted in confessions to crimes right here in the United States for which the defendants were innocent.

Last June, former Chicago Police commander Jon Burge was convicted of making false statements about the torture he engaged in. Burge, who had a group of followers -- other detectives referred to as the "midnight crew" from the Area 2 Violent Crimes Division -- tortured criminal suspects with impunity for years and years on Chicago's South Side. Everyone knew it, but turned a blind eye. Despite the similarity of the charges made against these officers by people separated by years and with no connection to each other, nothing was done. There were studies -- a special prosecutor was appointed by the presiding judge of Chicago's criminal division of the courts -- but millions of dollars later, they concluded there was torture... but they eschewed the actual word, and it happened too long ago to do anything about. Burge and his buddies locked up nearly 200 victims: Some guilty, many innocent, all African American, and nearly all poor.

Those defendants had no constituency, you see. It wasn't until the advent of DNA evidence and the assiduous work of many lawyers, working for free, eventually showed that a substantial percentage of these tortured confessions were factually false that the tide began slowly to turn.

We don't need torture to get information. We need intelligence, perseverance and professionalism. We have that in our intelligence community, our soldiers and our commander in chief.

I say this not because I feel badly that bin Laden no longer walks the earth, plotting death and destruction. I say this not because I feel any sympathy for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I say this because I fear, based on what I know from decades of representing the poor and despised members of a minority group, that we will end up becoming what we do; the means can become the ends, and what we are fighting for -- freedom and justice -- will slip from our fingers forever if we aren't vigilant. Torture doesn't work, and -- despite what some say -- it is careful intelligence, not torture, that we have to thank for the end of bin Laden.