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All Your Pulitzers Are Belong To Scott Shane

On the list of perfect items of war-on-terror journalism, the pantheon is pretty small. Dana Priest on the black sites. Charlie Savage on signing statements. Jim Risen on warrantless surveillance. Sy Hersh on Abu Ghraib. Jane Mayer on the origins of torture. Landay, Strobel and Walcott on the bureaucratic quasi-resistance to the Iraq invasion. Now, add to that list yesterday’s masterful account of the capture and interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, written by Scott Shane of The New York Times.

There’s more to this brilliant piece than I can pull out in a single blog post, but let me just highlight one brilliant detail. Here’s Shane on how a CIA counternarcotics analyst named Deuce Martinez interrogated KSM post-torture.

A canny opponent, Mr. Mohammed mixed disinformation and braggadocio with details of plots, past and planned. Eventually, he grew loquacious. “They’d have long talks about religion,” comparing notes on Islam and Mr. Martinez’s Catholicism, one C.I.A. officer recalled. And, the officer added, there was one other detail no one could have predicted: “He wrote poems to Deuce’s wife.”

Mr. Martinez, who by then had interrogated at least three other high-level prisoners, would bring Mr. Mohammed snacks, usually dates. He would listen to Mr. Mohammed’s despair over the likelihood that he would never see his children again and to his catalog of complaints about his accommodations.

Tempting as it is to conclude that Martinez’s interrogation of KSM proves the futility and inhumanity of torture, Shane writes:

Mr. Martinez’s success at building a rapport with the most ruthless of terrorists goes to the heart of the interrogation debate. Did it suggest that traditional methods alone might have obtained the same information or more? Or did Mr. Mohammed talk so expansively because he feared more of the brutal treatment he had already endured?

We don’t learn from Shane’s piece what — if any — valuable information KSM gave up, and what interrogation methods made him give it up. Nevertheless, it’s clear that only the vengeful and the ignorant believe that torture “works” as an interrogation strategy, and clearer still that only the amoral believe that it would be acceptable to venture into its depths.

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