Author of The Torture Papers Says Coercion Not Crucial, Part I

Osama bin Laden's death has reignited debate about whether tactics like waterboarding produce valuable data. Earlier in the program, former Bush administration official John Yoo argued that "enhanced interrogation techniques" were crucial to finding bin Laden. Host Michel Martin addresses the other side of this debate with Karen Greenberg, author of books on al-Qaeda, Guantanamo Bay and torture.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN (Host): We want to continue this conversation now with a very different point of view. Karen Greenberg is the author of what the Washington Post called one of the best books of 2009, "The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days." Professor Greenberg is executive director of New York University's Center on Law and Security. And she's with us now from NPR studios in New York. Professor Greenberg, thank you so much for joining us.

KAREN GREENBERG: Thank you for having me back.

MARTIN: Obviously, I'm interested in your take on what Professor Yoo had to say. But I just want to start with the essential point that he made in his op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, which is that the crucial information about the courier was obtained from one of the detainees, who was also subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. And so the argument is, as distasteful as it may be, how can you say that it didn't work?

GREENBERG: First of all, I think the facts are yet to be known. There are so many competing narratives right now: It was what KSM - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - did not say that led them to the courier; it's what he did say; it's what somebody else said. And I don't think they're claiming enhanced interrogation techniques for all of the information. But having said that, I think to assume that we didn't have the information elsewhere and that it was torture - which is my word for these enhanced interrogation techniques that produced this - it's counterproductive in innumerable ways.

GREENBERG: One, it intensifies our focus on a method that is barbaric and cruel, and that keeps people from focusing on honing the tools of intelligence they need in the field, on the ground, and in the human intelligence realm - which is how, as I understand it, this operation was done. Second, under American and international law, it is illegal. So there's just beginning thoughts about my response.

MARTIN: So let's just reiterate - is it the whole package of techniques that you take issue with most? Do you object to all of them, or is it mainly that you want to focus on the interrogation techniques?

GREENBERG: In this particular debate, it's about the torture techniques. I thought that the debate was somewhat over, with the beginning of the Obama administration, and it seems that it's been revived. I think it's interesting to note who it's been revived by. It hasn't been revived - I'm glad to say - by a new cadre of folks. It's really the same people. It's Rove and Cheney and Yoo.

I think one of the things we have to think about here, that hasn't been brought to the table yet, is perhaps this is the legacy of the Obama administration refusing to hold these people accountable. And by not doing that, there is sort of a sense that they can keep saying over and over, despite facts - even against facts - that torture worked and now, all of a sudden, that torture got Osama bin Laden. No one has proven that.

But what is very clear is that this was a long-term strategy that happened under the Obama administration. And while some things that the Bush administration may have done, may have led to him, the fact remains that the 9/11 attack happened under the Bush administration. And the failure to find Osama bin Laden happened under the Bush administration. It took eight years of whatever kind of techniques they wanted to use, and they did not get him. It took two years of a very considered, reasonable, covert operation that was joint military and joint intelligence, for the Obama administration to get him. And I think the record stands on its own.

MARTIN: Karen Greenberg is executive director of New York University's Center on Law and Security. We'd like for you to stay with us. We need to take a short break. But when we come back, we want to hear more from you about the use of these techniques, what our conversation should be about these techniques going forward. Please stay with us.

This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: