As Allahpundit noted last night, both sides are claiming vindication after the release of CIA documents on enhanced-interrogation techniques long sought by former Vice President Dick Cheney.  The memos don’t detail which particular techniques were most effective, but the most “enhanced” of them certainly gets specific recognition for its effectiveness.  Waterboarding played a role in loosening the tongues of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri, but the CIA was reluctant to specifically claim it as the sole reason for gaining more intel.  With Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, they had no such reservation (via Power Line and Weekly Standard):

The waterboard has been used on three detainees….Prior to the use of EITs, Abu Zubaydah provided information for [redacted] intelligence reports. Interrogators applied the waterboard to Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times during August 2002. [The report explains that each application of water is counted separately, and most of the 83 applications lasted less than ten seconds.] During the period between the end of the use of the waterboard and 30 April 2003, he provided information for approximately [redacted] intelligence reports. It is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu Zubaydah’s increased production, or if another factor, such as the length of detention, was the catalyst. Since the use of the waterboard, however, Abu Zubaydah has appeared to be cooperative.

With respect to Al-Nashiri, [redacted] reported two waterboard sessions in November 2002, after which the psychologist/interrogators determined that Al-Nashiri was compliant….Because of the litany of techniques used by different interrogators over a relatively short period of time, it is difficult to identify exactly why Al-Nashiri became more willing to provide information. However, following the use of EITs, he provided information about his most current operational planning and [redacted] as opposed to the historical information he provided before the use of EITs.

On the other hand, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, 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intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete.  As a means of less active resistance, at the beginning of their interrogation, detainees routinely provide information that they know is already known. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad received 183 applications of the waterboard in March 2003. …

He provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists including Sayfullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen who Khalid Shaykh Muhammad planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States; Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York; and Majid Khan, an operative who could enter the United States easily and was tasked to research attacks [redacted]. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad’s information also led to the investigation and prosecution of Iyman Faris, the truck driver arrested in early 2003 in Ohio.

The report contradicts what FBI interrogator Ali Soufan wrote in April.  At the time, Soufan wrote about Zubaydah specifically that he felt normal interrogation methods would have worked on the terrorist, and that EITs weren’t necessary for him or anyone else.  The CIA’s experience negates at least in part Soufan’s assertion that “[t]here was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics.”  Part of Soufan’s argument was that Zubaydah would eventually have given up the same information, and the EITs only sped up the process.  However, getting actionable intel on pending attacks quickly was certainly a major motivating factor, as well as quickly assessing al-Qaeda’s structure and financing.  Waiting several months to get that information may have made it moot.

With KSM, the CIA clearly believes that they never would have gotten his intel in time without the specific use of the waterboard.  That vindicates what Cheney has said all along — that the waterboard and the other EITs prevented terrorist attacks in the US and did significant damage to AQ.  In effect, Cheney and apparently the CIA called Obama’s bluff, with the agency finally getting the other side of the argument on EITs in the open.  EITs and specifically the waterboard saved American lives without costing the terrorists being interrogated any lasting physical damage.

That doesn’t necessarily close the question on EITs and whether or not they constituted torture.  However, thanks to the political reality in the Beltway at the moment, the interrogators who employed EITs within the contemporaneous parameters created by the Bush administration won’t get prosecuted in Eric Holder’s investigation.  Instead, they will focus on those who violated the boundaries, which leads to some pretty ridiculous outcomes.  The DoJ apparently wants to investigate an interrogator who blew cigar smoke into the faces of terrorists, another who used a drill and a gun to intimidate a detainee, and yet another who threatened to get a terrorist’s family members and kill them.

Are we to believe that the men who killed 3,000 men, women, and children were so sensitive that those threats would leave them psychologically scarred for life — but mass murder didn’t?  Will the DoJ now prosecute police officers who blow smoke in subjects’ faces, either inadvertently or deliberately, during interrogations?  Isn’t this defining torture down to an absurd level?  If anything, it shows that the statutes governing torture are ridiculously vague.

And how many American lives is it worth to prevent this?  10,000?  5,000?  Your family’s?  Like it or not, those were the stakes in the weeks following 9/11.

At best, the Obama administration can hope that this distracts from their collapsing domestic agenda.  Otherwise, they lost the argument last night.