On Saturday, a multi-bylined story in the Washington Post wrote that terrorists became helpful intelligence assets after -- and only after -- they were subjected to the CIA's harshest interrogation methods, including waterboarding. Khalid Sheik Mohammed (pictured) actually ended up giving tutorials to intelligence officers about al-Qaeda practices, philosophy and plans in 2005 and 2006:
These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its "preeminent source" on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.
"KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete," according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA's then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.
The release of this information is controversial, the Post's story is controversial, and the whole thing is fueling another round in the debate over interrogation of enemy combatants -- but all of that is beyond the scope of this blog. The reason I highlight this story here is that the coverage seems stuck in such utilitarian terms. Did harsh interrogation "work" or "not work"? To answer the question, the various reports out there quote people on one side of the story who insist that these methods lead to bad information or help recruit additional terrorists to the cause. And then they quote the people on the other side who say that the helpful information obtained justifies the use of harsh interrogation tactics. It's all very political.
But what I'm not seeing in any of the mainstream media coverage is any quotes from people who aren't debating in terms of utility. There are arguments -- religious and otherwise -- for or against these harsh interrogation practices that look at the inherent goodness or badness of the techniques apart from whatever utility they may serve. It just boggles the mind how well these arguments have been excluded from mainstream coverage. I'm not suggesting that the media take a position on the politics, the utility or the ethics of these practices but it seems to me that a discussion of their morality is still in order.