This week's release of information about the CIA's torture glosses over something fundamental about the interrogations.
Kurt Eichenwald, in 500 Days: Decisions and Deceptions in the Shadow of 9/11 recounts how American interrogators worked at Guantanamo Bay. Reading it, I was struck by how odd their assumption was about the folks they'd captured. The prisoners at Guantanamo were - most of them - soldiers of some kind. Many were from Afghanistan, a place where 92% of the people don't even know about 9/11. (This is not a place where the average person watches the evening news or surfs the Internet for investigative reporting. And where - between Russians and the Taliban - they've had their own atrocities to deal with.)
Imagine that al-Qaeda soldiers captured some American soldiers, took them to an island in the Middle East, and interrogated them about Bush's secret plans for fighting Islam or details about Cheney's underground bunker. It wouldn't even matter if these al-Qaeda interrogators were polite when they asked questions of the American soldiers. It would still be stupid. It wouldn't matter if the al-Qaeda interrogators offered the Americans access to American football games and BBQ or tortured them. No kindness or threat would change the fact that these men were ignorant of what al-Qaeda wanted to know.
These prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were largely low-level soldiers who were nonetheless interrogated daily, as if they had great secrets to reveal. They didn't. The men working at Guantanamo were under pressure to produce results and they tried everything from kindness to threats to torture and nothing worked for the simple reason that the men they'd captured didn't know anything useful.
As with so much in the wake of the Bush Administration's reaction to 9/11, the folks executing policy were struggling to build a skyscraper on a foundation of reinforced cardboard. Even on a good day, when you're given an impossible task, what you try may be unreasonable. And on really bad days, what you try may be immoral.