Birthers, Truthers, and enhanced interrogation deniers

Let me add a third denomination to this faith-based constellation: interrogation deniers, i.e., individuals who hold that the enhanced interrogation techniques used against CIA detainees have never yielded useful intelligence. They, of course, cling to this view despite all evidence to the contrary, despite the testimony of four CIA directors, and despite Mr. Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan’s statement that there’s been “a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists.”

The recent dispute over what strains of intelligence led to the killing of Osama bin Laden highlights the phenomenon. It must appear to outside observers like a theological debate over how many angels can reside on the head of a pin. So we see carefully tailored arguments designed to discount the value of enhanced interrogations: the first mention of the courier’s name came from a detainee not in CIA custody; CIA detainees gave false and misleading information about the courier; there is no way to confirm that information obtained through enhanced interrogation was the decisive intelligence that led us directly to bin Laden.

All fair enough as far as they go. But let the record show that when I was first briefed in 2007 about the brightening prospect of pursuing bin Laden through his courier network, a crucial component of the briefing was information provided by three CIA detainees, all of whom had been subjected to some form of enhanced interrogation. One of the most alerting pieces of evidence was that two of the detainees who had routinely been cooperative and truthful (after they had undergone enhanced techniques) were atypically denying apparent factual data—a maneuver taken as a good sign that the CIA was on to something important.