Of course false confessions were the point

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, April 23, 2009 15:34 EDT
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Sometimes I sit around, especially after reading a spate of dissenting blog comments, and think, “I’m too cynical of a person”. And then I read something like this (hat tip) and I realize that I’ve been in error all this time, because I wasn’t cynical enough.

See, for years now I’ve been one of those liberals who points out torture, on top of being a gross violation of basic human rights and a poison that corrupts your society, is also a really bad idea because it doesn’t work as promised. It’s supposed to be used to get people to dump valuable information that they’re otherwise inclined to keep secret, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. And the retort to that was that it doesn’t work, because people will lie under torture. Often they’ll lie because they don’t have any information, but they hope by providing something the torturer wants to hear, the torture will stop. We have ample historical evidence of this, especially in situations where people confessed to things that are impossible (witchcraft, mass murdering Christian children, etc.). We dwelt on this fact on the theory that it was a show-stopper of a point. And it is, if you really are attracted to the idea of torture as a way to get information from people.

But we weren’t cynical enough, because apparently the Bush administration authorized torture in hopes of getting false confessions.

The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime.

Of course they did, and I wasn’t sufficiently cynical enough about how evil they could be. In retrospect, it’s hard to see why it didn’t occur to me that they were hoping for this, since pinning all your hopes on one false piece of information is classic wingnuttery. Probably because I thought that once we were in Iraq, the Bushies largely dropped even pretending to give a shit about their lies regarding either WMDs or links between Hussein and al Qaida. The only value in continuing the ruse was to give supporters something to cling to, and I guess I didn’t think they really felt the need for that, because they don’t care about those nitwits (except as useful fools), and they knew that said nitwits didn’t need things like evidence to believe.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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