The Times Ducks the Hard Questions on Torture

Alissa Rubin is new to the New York Times' Baghdad beat, having previously reported from Iraq for the Los Angeles Times. But early indications are that she'll carry on in the slanted tradition of previousNYT reporters, such as her Sunday front-page story, "3 Suspects Talk After Iraqi Soldiers Do Dirty Work."

"Out here in what the soldiers call Baghdad's wild west, sometimes the choices are all bad.

"In one of the new joint American-Iraqi security stations in the capital this month, in the volatile Ghazaliya neighborhood, Capt. Darren Fowler was heaping praise on his Iraqi counterparts for helping capture three insurgent suspects who had provided information he believed would save American lives.

"'The detainee gave us names from the highest to the lowest,' Captain Fowler told the Iraqi soldiers. 'He showed us their safe houses, where they store weapons and I.E.D.'s and where they keep kidnap victims, how they get weapons, where weapons come from, how they place I.E.D.'s, attack us and go away. Because you detained this guy this is the first intelligence linking everything together. Good job. Very good job.'

"The Iraqi officers beamed. What the Americans did not know and what the Iraqis had not told them was that before handing over the detainees to the Americans, the Iraqi soldiers had beaten one of them in front of the other two, the Iraqis said. The stripes on the detainee's back, which appeared to be the product of a whipping with electrical cables, were later shown briefly to a photographer, who was not allowed to take a picture."


"The beaten detainee, according to Captain Fowler, not only led the Americans to safe houses believed to be used by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia but also confessed to laying and detonating roadside bombs along a section of road heavily traveled by American patrols. Just a month ago, four soldiers from Captain Fowler's regiment died on that road after the explosion of a large, deeply buried bomb, possibly made in the bomb factory that the Americans were able to dismantle because of the detainee's information, Captain Fowler said.

"But beating is strictly forbidden by the United States Army's Field Manual, as well as American and Iraqi laws. When the Americans learned about the beating, they were quick to condemn it.

This paragraph is dramatically overstated if not plain wrong: "The use of torture by American soldiers and contractors at Abu Ghraib only compounded Iraqi hatred of Americans and further undermined American moral claims in Iraq. It also produced little valuable information. Most experts, including in the military, say they believe that coerced confessions are an unreliable way to learn about enemy operations because people being tortured will often say whatever they think it will take to stop the pain."

But didn't Rubin state up top thatone beaten detainee had in fact led American troops to Al Qaeda safe houses? Breezily declaring that torture has "produced little valuable information" avoids the issue that perhaps it has worked at least sometimes in helping save soldiers' lives. But instead ofdelving into that gut-wrenching argument (torture vs the safety of U.S. troops), the Times pretends torture always backfires, even though its own article suggests otherwise.