Jeff Stein at Foreign Policy:
Well, it’s official now: John Kiriakou, the former CIA operative who affirmed claims that waterboarding quickly unloosed the tongues of hard-core terrorists, says he didn’t know what he was talking about.
Kiriakou, a 15-year veteran of the agency’s intelligence analysis and operations directorates, electrified the hand-wringing national debate over torture in December 2007 when he told ABC’s Brian Ross and Richard Esposito in a much ballyhooed, exclusive interview that senior al Qaeda commando Abu Zubaydah cracked after only one application of the face cloth and water.
“From that day on, he answered every question,” Kiriakou said. “The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.”
No matter that Kiriakou wearily said he shared the anguish of millions of Americans, not to mention the rest of the world, over the CIA’s application of the medieval confession technique.
The point was that it worked. And the pro-torture camp was quick to pick up on Kiriakou’s claim.
“It works, is the bottom line,” conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh exclaimed on his radio show the day after Kiriakou’s ABC interview. “Thirty to 35 seconds, and it works.”
A cascade of similar acclamations followed, muffling — to this day — the later revelation that Zubaydah had in fact been waterboarded at least 83 times.
Had Kiriakou left out something the first time?
Now comes John Kiriakou, again, with a wholly different story. On the next-to-last page of a new memoir, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror (written with Michael Ruby), Kiriakou now rather off handedly admits that he basically made it all up.
“What I told Brian Ross in late 2007 was wrong on a couple counts,” he writes. “I suggested that Abu Zubaydah had lasted only thirty or thirty-five seconds during his waterboarding before he begged his interrogators to stop; after that, I said he opened up and gave the agency actionable intelligence.”
But never mind, he says now.
“I wasn’t there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I’d heard and read inside the agency at the time.”
Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time:
The original ABC News story, meanwhile–with the headline “Coming in From the Cold: CIA Spy Calls Waterboarding Necessary But Torture”–is still running on the ABC News website, effectively unaltered save a small note that says after the third paragraph, “This story has been updated. (see endnote),” with a link to another page, where Kiriakou admits that he was wrong.
As it stands more than two years later, the web story is an embarrassment for ABC News. If the esteemed news organization had reported on election night in 2008 that John McCain had won the presidency, my guess is ABC’s editors would feel obligated to issue a more prominent correction than a blind link to another web page hidden in the text of their original mistake.
Marc Thiessen at The Corner:
The Left will pounce all over this story in Foreign Policy: “CIA Man Retracts Claim on Waterboarding.” It reports that “John Kiriakou, the former CIA operative who affirmed claims that waterboarding quickly unloosed the tongues of hard-core terrorists, says he didn’t know what he was talking about.” In his memoir, Kirakou admits that he was not in the room during the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, who he claimed broke after one application of water and produced vital intelligence. His resistance was, in fact, much greater than that.
As always, the Left will attempt to distort this as proof to back their specious claim that no valuable information came from Zubaydah and other terrorists. But the evidence that the CIA program was effective is not dependent on Kirakou’s testimony.
I have spoken to the people who — unlike Kirakou — were in the room for the interrogations of Zubaydah, KSM and other terrorists held by the CIA. And in Courting Disaster, I meticulousluy document the evidence for the efficacy of the CIA interrogation program — based not on Kirakou’s claims, but on the testimony of the actual interrogators, interivews with top CIA and other intelligence officials, the evidence presented in the CIA inspector general’s report, and other top-secret documents declassified by the Obama administration. I urge you to read it and judge for yourself. The evidence is overwhelming.
Unfortunately, Kiriakou kicked up a lot of dust and created a lot of confusion about the efficacy of torture, a practice that should be abandoned purely on moral grounds, but which also has terrible track record for success compared to more thoughtful interrogation methods. His mea culpa is too little too late considering the blatant lie he told in the face of actual evidence, and the harm caused.
Of course there is more than meets the eye on this story. The fact of the matter is that Kiriakou says he “didn’t know what he was talking about” because he wasn’t in the room when the waterboarding took place. The whole piece uses over 900 words to assert that the success of waterboarding is in question because Kiriakou used second hand information to come to the conclusion that waterboarding doesn’t work, but completely ignores the fact that the interrogators themselves confirmed KSM broke because of waterboarding and the declassified documents prove that attacks were prevented because of the information that was extracted.
The left can squeal all they want on this matter. KSM broke because of this interrogation method and if this method was not in place at the time we would have suffered more attacks. Now that we read Miranda rights to enemy combatants we should not be surprised when the next attack attempt is successful. Why? Because we will have no idea its coming.
Rachel Slajda at TPM
UPDATE: Annie Lowrey at Foreign Policy with the Colbert Report piece