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On Defensive, NY Times Takes on 'Torture Apologists' Who See Vindication of Harsh Interrogation Tactics

Thursday's lead New York Times editorial defended the paper's left-wing ideological ground against conservative arguments that the killing of Osama bin Laden is a vindication of harsh interrogation methods used on terrorist detainees in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere: "The Torture Apologists - Efforts to justify torture after the Bin Laden killing are cynical and destructive."

As the headline proves, the Times has made itself quite comfortable with using the loaded word "torture" to describe broad interrogation methods like water-boarding and sleep deprivation that inflict temporary physical panic.

The killing of Osama bin Laden provoked a host of reactions from Americans: celebration, triumph, relief, closure and renewed grief. One reaction, however, was both cynical and disturbing: crowing by the apologists and practitioners of torture that Bin Laden's death vindicated their immoral and illegal behavior after the Sept. 11 attacks.

 

Still ignoring C.I.A. Director Leon Panetta's admission on Tuesday night that "enhanced interrogation techniques" like waterboarding did produce actionable intelligence, the Times cited its own incomplete reporting from yesterday to conclude that "torture" was little or no help in leading the Seals to bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan.

There is no final answer to whether any of the prisoners tortured in President George W. Bush's illegal camps gave up information that eventually proved useful in finding Bin Laden. A detailed account in The Times on Wednesday by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage concluded that torture "played a small role at most" in the years and years of painstaking intelligence and detective work that led a Navy Seals team to Bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan.

That squares with the frequent testimony over the past decade from many other interrogators and officials. They have said repeatedly, and said again this week, that the best information came from prisoners who were not tortured. The Times article said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times, fed false information to his captors during torture.


Then the Times takes a stand, and confesses that even if a useful tip was extracted during waterboarding or some other temporarily debilitating method the Times terms "torture," the paper would still be opposed to it on principle:

Even if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify Mr. Bush's decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard.

- Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.