Not for collecting intelligence. For that, it’s crap. But if your goal is to terrorize a populace, torture — or enhanced interrogation, or whatever you wanna call it — works quite well. In fact, it’s a key ingredient in any imperial nation’s recipe for “shock and awe.”
Of course, there can be unintended consequences, like the “extremification” (say that in a Dubya voice) of everyone capable of hoisting a Kalashnikov.
Then there’s the problem of what to do with the folks you’ve so methodically broken. If they were captured overseas, you can’t try them in a U.S. Federal Court. If the prosecution in any way relies on intelligence gathered through clandestine means, it’s likely inadmissible. Ditto if the information comes as a result of coercion.
“But that’s why there’s military commissions,” you say. Well, those have been derided as kangaroo courts, based on the Bush Administration’s weak-ass prosecutions of only a few Guantánamo Bay detainees. According to transition spokeswoman Brooke Anderson, “President-Elect Obama has repeatedly said that he believes that the legal framework at Guantánamo has failed to successfully and swiftly prosecute terrorists, and he shares the broad bipartisan belief that Guantánamo should be closed.”
That’s all well and good. But what do you do with all those prisoners who, if they weren’t dangerous before GitMo, surely are now? You probably gotta release them. But what if their home countries won’t take them? Should we hold them indefinitely, creating a de facto Guantánamo Bay on U.S. soil? Maybe it’s not such a bad idea — after all, supermax prison construction is a recession-proof industry.
At least the likely new Attorney General has stated plainly that waterboarding is torture. Maybe he’ll also go on record about the isolation, hot/cold rooms, sleep deprivation, sexual/cultural and other humiliations that detainees in the War on Terror have faced. But probably not.
So yeah, torture works. Provided you’re willing to considerably adjust your expectations.